ANDY DRIVER has long since grown tired of being asked when he’s going to be back to his swashbuckling pre-injury form. The Hearts winger, however, senses that things are starting to come together for him now that he has been deployed on his favoured left flank in a 4-4-2 formation.
After seeing his progress badly halted by injury in recent seasons, Driver has finally been able to savour a calendar year away from the treatment table, with the Englishman having made just short of 50 appearances throughout the course of 2012, the pinnacle of which was, of course, the Scottish Cup final in May.
Although he has banished his injury demons, he acknowledges that his form has not reached the level it was under Csaba Laszlo some four years ago or when he first burst on to the scene under Valdas Ivanauskas in 2006.
A change of approach from current manager John McGlynn over the past few weeks has paid dividends for Driver, though. Earlier in the season, he was playing on the right flank with only one central striker to pick out. Over the past four games, however, he has looked reinvigorated after being returned to what he feels is his natural position: wide on the left of a four-man midfield, providing ammunition for two strikers.
“I think my form of late has been a lot better,” he told the Evening News in an exclusive interview. “My final delivery and everything else has started to come together at the right time. The goal and the assist at St Johnstone two weeks ago showed that. I think my form also coincides with the team starting to do a lot better. It’s hard to play well without your teammates doing well around you.
“The 4-4-2 helps me a lot because you’ve got two strikers to hit in the middle instead of one. Even when you’re deeper and you receive the ball you’ve got two targets and the way Gordon Smith’s been playing, we’ve got a target in the channels as well. It’s a massive help to have a couple more options.
“You can see that with some of the balls I’m getting into the box. I put in a ball last week that wasn’t the best but because we had more bodies in the box, it still created a chance. Playing on the left has also been a big help for me. I prefer playing out on the left, that’s where I’ve always played.
“The last few games are the only times I’ve really played there this season, so hopefully I can get to stay out there. Hitting the line and getting balls in has always been my biggest asset, but if I’m playing on the right I find myself cutting in more which is not my natural game. Also when I’m playing on the right, I don’t have the same confidence to go down the line because I know that the cross isn’t going to be quite as good as it would be off my left foot. Being on the left is a massive thing for my game.
“I’m sick of getting asked about when I’ll be back to where I was a few years ago, but hopefully it will happen. I’ve just got to keep my head down and keep working hard.
“In terms of injuries, I think I’ve only missed half a training session this season when I got kicked on the foot, so it’s all going really well on that side of things. My body feels strong and I’m not getting any aches and pains, so I’m really enjoying it at the moment.”
Driver would be enjoying it even more if Hearts were higher than ninth in the SPL. The long-serving wideman, however, is confident his side will start motoring up the table soon enough, and, with that in mind, is eyeing pre-winter-break wins over Ross County today and Hibs on Thursday.
“The most important thing for the club as a whole was getting through that hard time off the field,” he continued. “That may have been a slight aspect of why results were not as good as they should have been but hopefully we’re over that now. There were certainly a few games earlier in the season where we should have got more points, like the two games against Dundee, where we didn’t do ourselves justice, and at home to Inverness, when we threw away a two-goal lead. We need to convert games like those into wins.
“Certainly in the last four games, we’ve looked a lot better. Even at Kilmarnock, where we didn’t score, we created a lot of chances. We’re showing a lot of positivity and it just so happens to have coincided with changing to 4-4-2. The game at Ross County is massive – if we can win that it takes us into the Hibs game on a high. If we can win both these games we’ll climb right up the table.”