IF there is one Hearts player entitled to stride into Tannadice with chest puffed out, it is Callum Paterson. Three goals in two appearances means there are reasons for confidence this weekend at a venue which is now his favourite by some distance.
Modesty will prevent the 19-year-old strutting through the stadium’s reception like Johnny Bravo tomorrow afternoon, but he is nonetheless intent on replicating his impressive scoring feats against Dundee United.
Paterson claimed his first senior goals with a double in Hearts’ 3-0 win at Tannadice in September last year. He followed that with a goal in a League Cup quarter-final win over United at the same ground the very next month. It is a place which he knows brings out the best in him.
“I’ve scored a few goals up there, to be fair. I just enjoy playing up there, really,” he told the Evening News. “That’s where I scored my first competitive goal in senior football, so after my first I just carried it on from there. I’ve scored a few goals recently as well so, having scored some goals at Tannadice before, I want to try and carry on with the good form. We’re not sure what’s happening with Ryan Stevenson’s injury but hopefully I can play up front with somebody off me and get another goal.”
United’s defence are likely to keep Paterson on close watch. “They know I score up there and they know I’ve scored a few goals this season as well. They might keep an eye on me, but I’m just focusing on myself, I’m not too fussed about what they think.”
The majority of Paterson’s eight senior goals to date have been finishes which belong in the unexpected category. He also executed an exquisite overhead kick for Scotland Under-21s last month against Georgia, as if to underline his penchant for the spectacular. He is now seeking to improve his ability to take the more straightforward chances which strikers are primed to convert.
“I’ve missed a few easier chances throughout the season,” he admitted. “St Mirren at home – missed a couple of really good opportunities that day. It’s a case of working on those ones and making sure I can put them away rather than the freak overhead-kicks that shouldn’t really be happening. I should be focusing on the proper finishing.
“I’m not really a centre-forward so I kind of just put it to the back of my mind when I miss chances. I do need to start focusing on it a bit more and working on my finishing. That’s me up front now and I know how to play the position, although I’ve still got a lot to learn. I want to try and keep improving up there.
“Getting through to the League Cup semi-final was a massive thing for me. I’ve been scoring goals and playing okay recently so it’s the most productive spell in my career so far. I prefer playing at the back, to be honest, but I’m here to do a job up front and hopefully I’m doing okay. I’ve got no problems carrying on there and doing what I can for the manager and the club. The manager has been taking me aside, and John Robertson’s done the same. Everything has been really positive and they just want me to keep doing what I’m doing.
“The team’s confidence took a bit of a dent last weekend because of the defeat against Celtic and we were all a bit down. Now, we’re all back up and ready for the game at Tannadice. We’re looking for three points to get back on track.”
Easier said than done against a United team which even the aforementioned Bravo couldn’t match for swagger right now. Their last three matches have seen them score an incredible 13 goals. The seemingly uninhibitible Ryan Gauld has seven assists in his last two outings alone, despite the fact he is still just 17 years of age. Manager Jackie McNamara and his assistants Simon Donnelly and Darren Jackson are overseeing a well-oiled machine which has climbed to fourth in the Scottish Premiership.
Paterson is well versed with many of tomorrow’s opposition from Scotland Under-21 duty. Aside from Gauld, Stuart Armstrong and Andrew Robertson are mainstays in Billy Stark’s squad.
“Ryan Gauld is something else. He’s just unbelievable,” said Paterson. “He’s about half the height of me and he’s just ridiculous. It’s phenomenal the talent he has. We need to try and keep tabs on him tomorrow. United have quality all over the park, though, so we really just need to focus on our own game and not worry too much about them.
“I know all about them. Everyone knows Ryan Gauld is doing well, as is John Souttar, and Andy Robertson has scored a few goals recently from left-back. They’re the ones to watch out for, along with Stuart Armstrong. We need to try and play our own game at the same time. I haven’t had any messages from any of the United boys but I’ll see them tomorrow and see what they have to say. I’ll wait until after the game to speak to them, though.
“We all get on pretty well having been with the Scotland Under-21s. Stuart Armstrong is captain of the 21s and he’s a good guy.”
The nature of the task facing Hearts on Tayside tomorrow becomes all the clearer with Paterson’s assertion that it will be every bit as awkward as last weekend’s 7-0 Scottish Cup humiliation.
“Celtic have been playing at the top level in the Champions League for a number of years now,” he explained. “I’m not making excuses but we’ve not got much depth and we aren’t really the most experienced Hearts team you will ever see. Celtic were unbelievable, played really well, and we just didn’t play all that great. Put those two together and you see what happens.
“This game tomorrow won’t be any easier because Dundee United are flying with the goals just now. They’ve been scoring plenty recently so we will need to keep it tight at the back and take any chances we get at the other end.”
Paterson, given his record at Tannadice, will be poised to do gobble up anything that comes his way there.