Winter break can help Hearts, says Bjorn Johnsen

Bjorn Johnsen admitted Hearts found it tough against Aberdeen on Friday night. Pic: SNS

Bjorn Johnsen admitted Hearts found it tough against Aberdeen on Friday night. Pic: SNS

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Bjorn Johnsen believes the winter break has come at a good time for Hearts as they bid to reignite their faltering challenge for a top-three finish in the Scottish Premiership.

Friday night’s defeat by Aberdeen means the Tynecastle side have won only one of their six games since Robbie Neilson left for MK Dons a month ago. Having been in second place following the victory over Rangers in the former head coach’s final game, Hearts are now eight points adrift of the Ibrox side and six behind Aberdeen, who have a game in hand.

They resume their league campaign away to Celtic three weeks on Sunday, with the players having been given this week off before returning to work at the start of next week to start gearing up for their Scottish Cup fourth-round trip to Raith Rovers on Sunday 22 January.

Johnsen admits the break offers a good opportunity for Hearts, who returned for pre-season in mid-June, to re-energise and for recently-installed head coach Ian Cathro to work more closely with his squad.

“The break could help us,” said the striker. “We have some time to forget about Friday and come back fresh in the mind. We will get some time with the manager, to work with him and see what he wants to do.

“We will get some days off but I think we’ll have sufficient days off to come back and be ready for what we need to do. I don’t want to stop playing games but I think, mentally and physically, we need a break right now. Friday was a tough game, the pitch is really difficult to run on and play on. We need to get back rejuvenated.”

Johnsen believes extra time on the training ground will allow the players to adapt to the new style that Cathro and his assistant Austin MacPhee are trying to implement, with clear and understandable teething problems meaning Hearts have taken only four points from their first five games in charge.

“At the moment, we need to get used to him,” said Johnsen. “If someone new goes into your family, it’s very difficult to let them in. This has only been a month with Ian. We need time. I think both of them are great coaches.

“You saw we changed tactics during the game on Friday so he’s not afraid to change it. He definitely has a very positive mindset on what we need to do. He’s changing our minds about what we need to do as well. It’s good for us that we have a coach who is positive and wants to put them across in everybody’s mind. His ideas have been helpful but it takes time to get used to it.

“Robbie already had two years under his belt when I got here. He had experience and he also knew how to win games, how to pull out results against big opponents. We’re always learning under Ian and I think Ian is definitely the kind of coach we need here at the club.”

Johnsen believes Hearts can still finish second – but only if they make a strong start after the break. By that point, they are likely to have some new faces on board. “Let’s see our reaction when we get back in January – I’ll tell you then,” he said, when asked about the prospects of finishing second. “Let’s see if we come in flying in our first couple of games after the break. We need a run of games in the second half of the season, we need a run of wins, not just win and then lose or draw. We need two or three wins to get our confidence again.”

Reflecting on the first half of the season, Johnsen said: “We started off pretty well. I watched the first game against Celtic because I wasn’t playing and we did well. A lot of changes have gone on throughout the first half of the season. We are trying to get used to the new gaffer, new ideas and keep the momentum we had before Robbie left.

“It’s been up and down but I think we’re in a good position to fight for second or third. We’ll see what happens in the second half of the season if we get any new signings. We’ll get some time together to work some more before hopefully starting the new year on a high.”