THREE goals in five appearances indicate Michael Ngoo has settled rather well at Hearts. Worryingly for Scottish defenders, the giant striker claims he is only just getting into his loping stride. More goals lie in wait once he gains full momentum – a thought to bring a shiver down the spine of any opponent.
Ngoo is seeking his first “home” strike tomorrow when Inverness Caledonian Thistle visit Tynecastle. He scored on his Hearts debut against the Highland club in the Scottish Communities League Cup semi-final at Easter Road, with his other two efforts coming in Dingwall and Dundee. Rippling the rigging in front of fans who have adopted him as an instant hero is next on his priority list.
Not that he has anything to prove. The 20-year-old’s arrival on loan from Liverpool last month accorded Hearts the kind of attacking presence manager John McGlynn had been craving all season. Not only is he 6ft 4in tall with a natural scorer’s instinct, he is deceptively quick on the ground for such a hulking figure. All attributes combined, he is a perfect fit for the Edinburgh club and has adjusted seamlessly to life in the Scottish Premier League.
“I’ve always known that, when you join a new team, it’s important to come with an immediate impact,” said Ngoo, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “I’ve always had that at the back of my mind. I’m just grateful it’s happened so soon here. The impact has been straight away and there’s more to come as well. I’m just pleased with the impact I’ve made.
“I feel there are more goals to come. At the moment I’m still gelling with the team. I feel comfortable now but when I get even more comfortable there will be more goals and more excitement.”
The opportunity to play first-team football has recharged Ngoo to some extent. He was relatively happy playing Under-21 football at Liverpool but had not made an impression on the senior team since joining from Southend United in September 2009.
Moving to Hearts offered the chance to test himself at a more competitive level than the under-20s and it would be fair to say he has relished it so far.
“The matches are a good buzz because I just love playing,” he continued. “Unfortunately, the results haven’t been going our way. In some parts we’ve been playing good football and showing everyone we are better than our opponents, but it’s the results and the goals that matter. From now on, hopefully the results can start to come.
“The football is very different up here. Liverpool is different in terms of facilities but you can’t get better than first-team football and that’s why I’m here.
“This is part of the job being a professional footballer. This is the first loan I’ve had and it’s a good experience. I’m meeting new people and the fans are just tremendous. I’m enjoying facing new opponents.”
Ngoo was recruited to solve a goalscoring problem which had irked McGlynn since the day he took charge as manager last summer. John Sutton had not produced what the manager expected, whilst Gordon Smith has remained on the periphery of the team for much of the campaign. Strikers were few and far between, a fact emphasised by McGlynn’s deployment of 17-year-old Callum Paterson at centre-forward at one stage this term.
Ngoo’s arrival took some of the pressure off, yet the tall Londoner did not feel unduly burdened by expectations.
“I didn’t feel pressure. I wasn’t even aware Hearts needed a striker or needed goals,” he said. “I knew I was coming on loan and looking to play, that was about it. Obviously now I’m aware that goals are needed and everything else that’s going on. It just gives me that edge to do better and work harder.”
The biggest concern currently is Hearts’ placing in the SPL. They face third-placed Inverness while sitting tenth in the table, a position they cannot better tomorrow even with victory as they are five points behind ninth-placed Ross County.
“We have no excuses as a team and, as a striker, I have no excuses. We need the results, that’s the bottom line,” stressed Ngoo. “If I score, perfect, but if I don’t and we win then that’s fine. It’s not about me, it’s about the team.”
Having scored against Inverness just four weeks ago, he is likely to be given special attention by centre-backs Josh Meekings and Gary Warren tomorrow. It isn’t likely to faze him.
“I want to do what I did before against them. Last time I felt I was a big threat playing against them so I wouldn’t want to change too much. I know they will be strong marking me because they know I can be a threat to them. That’s something I’m expecting.
“On the field, all the boys in the team have helped me and we give each other ideas on where to run and how they like to distribute balls to the striker. That’s good for me because I know to make a run to where they are going to deliver a pass.
“The boys are great and it’s been important we’ve had social time together. There are a few players that I socialise and I think it’s important to get to know your team-mates away from the pitch.”
So, is he settled enough to want to make his stay in Edinburgh permanent? His loan agreement expires at the end of the season but Ngoo is giving little away on his future plans.
“I haven’t thought about it. I’m just taking each game as it comes and looking forward to the big game – the League Cup final, and Hibs away will be very good to play in as well. I’m concentrating on short-term things more because there’s no point thinking what’s going to happen in three or four months’ time. It’s important I think about the game on Saturday.”