Watching the match ball spin through the rain into Fir Park’s South Stand was a tortuous sight for Sam Nicholson.
Near the end of Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Motherwell, the Hearts winger saw Connor Ripley parry Osman Sow’s shot into his path, but sliced his left-footed finish into the travelling support.
Nicholson is particularly demanding of himself when it comes to goalscoring. He feels he should score more and shoot with greater accomplishment. Saturday’s chance would have won the game for Hearts, but instead they had to settle for a point amid driving rain and swirling winds. The 20-year-old wasn’t prepared to use conditions as an excuse.
“Even though it’s wet and slippy, I still feel I should be finishing that chance,” he told the Evening News. “We discussed, as a team, that we shouldn’t have got ourselves in a position where we lost two goals in the first place. That’s a whole team thing, but I still feel I should be finishing that.
“I think I should be hard on myself. Too many times I’ve missed chances that I should be finishing. I’m an honest player. If I’m not playing well, if I’m not finishing things off that I should, then I’m going to say. I’m not saying I had a bad game on Saturday because I thought I did alright. It’s just, when it came to the end product, it just wasn’t there.
“Finishing is something I do work on but, like any other player, sometimes it clicks and sometimes it doesn’t. Even the best players in the world have bad games and what they try doesn’t come off. If you’re playing week in and week out, you should always be grateful for the chance you’re getting. I’m really happy with the opportunities I’m getting and I just want to stay in the team.”
Nicholson struggled to identify the reasons why Hearts have dropped four points in their last two matches. A 1-1 draw with Dundee and 2-2 draw at Fir Park combined to push them down to third place in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
“I think we haven’t been up to scratch for the last two weeks and that’s something we’ve got to change,” he continued. “Fair play to Motherwell, they battled really well but I think we would have won our last two games if we’d put ourselves into them properly. I don’t think we did that.
“We obviously worked hard looking towards the game but I don’t know what it is actually, whether it’s effort or whatever. I feel everyone is working hard enough but, in the last two games, it just hasn’t clicked like it has before. That happens through a season but let’s hope it changes soon.
“We’re a bit disappointed but all we can do is try to push on from here. At the start of the season, people were saying: ‘You will do well to get into the top six.’ Now we’re in the top three so I think it’s harsh if folk are saying we aren’t having a good season. With the target we had, and the fans as well, I think we’re exceeding so far and we just want to keep doing that.
“We’re still an improved team, regardless of whether we drew with Dundee and Motherwell. These games just haven’t gone the way we wanted. There were times in that second half when I felt we controlled it and we just didn’t quite manage to get the win.”
Talk of challenging Celtic for the title is ultra-ambitious for the Premiership’s newly-promoted club. Such chatter became louder in recent weeks as Hearts climbed to second in the table, but Nicholson stressed that hasn’t infiltrated the minds of the players.
“I don’t think it’s a distraction. People can talk all the time and we’re never going to listen to it,” he said. “It’s just like some people think you’re a good player and others think you’re a bad player. We aren’t going to listen to that. It’s up to us at the end of the day.
“We can’t let people talking change the way we look at things. We’re looking to win games and, unfortunately, the last two weeks haven’t gone the way we wanted. Whether people are saying we’re title challengers or not, we aren’t going to let it affect us.”