Those who have regularly witnessed Osman Sow’s performances in a maroon shirt this season will not have been surprised by Robbie Neilson’s revelation last week that Hearts have opened discussions with the Swedish striker with a view to extending his stay in Gorgie.
Both as a scorer and creator of goals, the former Crystal Palace man has proved to be an effective attacking weapon in Neilson’s arsenal, both on the way to comfortably winning the Championship title last season and during what has so far been a very strong return to the Ladbrokes Premiership. A further two goals in Saturday’s 4-0 victory over Partick Thistle – his fifth and sixth in all competitions this season – further endeared the rangy frontman to 1700 travelling Jambos.
The good news for the Hearts head coach and all of a maroon persuasion is that Sow is also keen to extend his stay in Edinburgh. A naturally relaxed guy off the pitch, he’s not fretting over when any new deal is agreed, but would like to continue playing for a club and a manager he enjoys working for. “I’m happy at the moment and I believe in what we’re doing here” he told the Evening News. “I believe in the gaffer, in the staff and in the players, so I’m happy. It [agreeing an extension quickly] isn’t a big thing. I’m happy at the moment and I just want to play football. I’m doing that at the moment, so it looks good.”
The Stockholm-born striker’s contribution in his season-and-a-bit in Gorgie suggests he’s a man well worth keeping around. He began his Hearts career as the club’s main striker following an impressive trial period, making an immediate and significant impact with a dramatic late winner in the 2014/15 season opener at Ibrox. This term, he faced competition after the summer arrival of Juanma Delgado. Despite being pushed out wide or deeper to accommodate his new teammate, Sow believes they are beginning to develop an understanding on the pitch. That was demonstrated to devastating effect at Firhill, both scoring twice and assisting the other.
It’s something Sow hopes can continue to flourish, with the striker’s lack of English not proving to be any sort of barrier. “We speak Spanish, English, French – everything in the dressing room,” he joked. “I speak a little bit of Spanish and he speaks a little bit of English, so it’s all good. We’re starting to understand each other a bit more – he’s a good player. I prefer to play up top, but I’ll play anywhere the manager wants me to. I believe in him and he’s done a great job, so if he puts me at centre half, I’ll go and play centre half. I just like to play.”
Despite a telling impact, Neilson was quick explain that he demands more from his strikers. While maybe seeming somewhat harsh after an assist and two goals, Sow admitted he puts similar pressure on himself to improve his game. “He [Neilson] wasn’t too happy with the first half but we dug it out 4-0 and three points, so we can’t complain too much,” continued Sow. “I’m trying to improve my own game every day and I feel that I’m slowly getting there.”
Sow has now played four consecutive 90 minutes – not something he’s been able to do in the past, and the player himself is feeling the difference. “Everything has to do with fitness” he explained. “Now I’m fit enough to play 90 minutes so that’s why the goals are coming. Earlier in the season I was struggling a bit so they didn’t come. Like on Saturday, many goals come in the last 30 minutes so you need to be fresh then.”
That freshness was evident as Sow skipped clear of the Partick backline with just a couple of minutes left on before being sent sprawling by Jags ‘keeper Ryan Scully. His dismissal, coupled with the fact that Alan Archibald had used all of his substitutes, meant Sow faced the unusual prospect of taking a penalty against an outfield player – ex-Hearts man Ryan Stevenson at that.
The Hearts No.10 converted – despite Stevenson getting a hand to the spot kick – and was relieved he’d avoided the no-doubt merciless ribbing he’d have received from his team-mates if he hadn’t. “I was lucky Juanma got subbed so I could take it and was quite lucky with the penalty as well, but it was okay,” he laughed. “A goal is a goal! It’s the first time I’ve taken one into an outfield player. He went for the ball, but it went in, so I’m relieved! It was nice to get some goals – I’m happy we got the three points. The performance maybe wasn’t the best thing first half but we dug it out.”
This latest three points put Hearts into second place behind Celtic in the Premiership table. Sow revealed they knew that was a possibility before the game, but is on the same page as his manager when it comes to keeping expectations for what Hearts can achieve this season in check.
“It’s still to early to look at the table,” the 25-year-old warned. “It’s good that we’re right up there, but we just need to keep picking up points and see where it goes. I know we are a good team, but I didn’t know how good this league was. Now I know what we need to do and I think slowly, we’re going in the right direction. The team has developed a lot since I came here up until now – it’s a more solid team, so we’re in the right direction. Everyone else is a bit better than when we were in the Championship, but it looks like we’re managing it well. We have a chance to do well but it’s about going out there and doing the job.”
While it’s early days, Hearts’ prospects of achieving what they want on a longer-term basis will certainly be enhanced if an in-form Osman Sow decides to stick around at Tynecastle.