Prince Buaben says he felt at ease as a deputy centre-back after his man-of-the-match display in Hearts’ 1-0 victory over Dundee.
The Ghanaian midfielder partnered Krystian Nowak in the heart of defence as he returned to the starting line-up for the first time since the Scottish Cup win over Raith Rovers in January. It was a move that worked a treat as Hearts ended a three-game losing streak and temporarily lifted the gloom that has been building around the club as their season has unravelled in recent months. “Centre-half is not something new for me – it’s where I started my career when I was young at Ajax,” said Buaben. “Then at Dundee United, Craig [Levein] played me there a few times. I played there against St Johnstone in midweek when I came on for half an hour. And in the testimonial game against Dundee United I played there, so I was quite used to it and comfortable.”
Although thrilled to get a rare start in what has been a frustrating season for him, Buaben insists midfield is still his preferred position. “It’s not a position I’m going to say ‘no’ to but, if you asked me, I would rather play midfield,” he said. “But if I have to do a job at centre-back, I feel comfortable doing it.”
Buaben admits he benefited from having Alex Tziolis shielding himself and Nowak from his deep-lying midfield role. The big Greek, who has come in for criticism in recent months, was a steadying presence as Hearts kept Dundee comfortably at bay for most of the match. “Having Alex there, he is a big experienced guy,” said Buaben. “He helped me and Krystian a lot in defence. The striker [Marcus Haber] was quite big and I’m not used to this kind of thing so he helped us a lot and made us feel comfortable on the ball.”
Head coach Ian Cathro was delighted with Buaben’s performance. “Prince has played there before and he dealt with the game well,” he said. “He has different qualities. He helps us start with the ball. It was important that we got control of the game and had quality in that area.”
Buaben was largely unflustered at the back, although Dundee offered little as an attacking force and rarely pressured the Ghanaian in the air. It is not beyond possibility that Cathro would consider using him in defence against more aggressive attacking sides. “Every defender will deal with the physical side of it slightly differently,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t consider that Prince isn’t capable of dealing with any type of bombardment. But this is a game-by-game thing.
“He did well on Saturday and helped the team. That was a big plus for us.”
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if left-back Lennard Sowah, who missed Saturday’s game with the injury he sustained in the defeat at St Johnstone last Wednesday, will be fit for Friday’s trip to Kilmarnock. “We’ll assess him, but Friday is a possibility,” said Cathro.