Big interview: Steven MacLean not content with bit-part role at Hearts
You could say Steven MacLean enjoyed his Edinburgh derby cameo: Eighteen minutes as a sub, an assist for Hearts’ equaliser and a roll about on the ground with Lewis Stevenson. Even at 36, the striker isn’t too old for causing carnage.
Having sparked life into his team last weekend, he is desperate to make the starting line-up against Kilmarnock tomorrow. There are only three league games remaining, thus chances to impress manager Craig Levein before the Scottish Cup final are precious.
MacLean admits he did not do himself justice over the winter and took some alone time to re-evaluate what he wanted from his time at Hearts. He is now fully focused on regaining a starting place in time for the Hampden Park engagement with Celtic on the 25th of the month. If he needs to bare his teeth and show some raw aggression to do it, then so be it.
This player revels on the big occasion and hates being sat on the sidelines. He has cut a frustrated figure in recent weeks having started just two matches for Hearts since Christmas.
“I haven’t played a lot since the turn of the year. I was left out of the squad a couple of times,” he recalled. “When you come on, you just have to try and make an impact whether it’s for 20 minutes or half an hour. I think I did well when I came on against Inverness in the Scottish Cup semi-final. The Rangers game wasn’t great because I came on when we were 3-0 down but I managed to get a goal. I wanted to use my experience, run about, be aggressive, not go around kicking people but try to make an impact in a certain way.
“Sunday was a derby and I’ve played at Easter Road plenty times. I knew what I was coming into. I set the goal up and helped us get a result. Now I’m hoping to get myself back in the side. These games just now are massive so I want to stay in the manager’s thoughts. I want to help the team and win a cup.”
Even enterting the twilight of his career, MacLean is not content with a bit-part role. “No, 100 per cent. I do understand at times. Before Christmas, I played a lot of games but I didn’t play at my best at times. The team was struggling and I probably didn’t do myself justice on occasions. We signed a couple of players, they got a chance, and challenges like that have come up all through my career.
“There were times when I was out of the squad and I thought: ‘Is this for you?’ The minute I feel I can’t do it or my legs have gone, I won’t play. I won’t want to embarrass myself or let my team-mates down. I still feel I’ve got a lot to give.
“I had some thinking time while I was out of the team and I decided I’d go in, work hard and try to get myself back in the team.”
The impact MacLean had against Hibs makes him a difficult man to ignore this weekend. In particular, his stop and cutback for Ikpeazu to stroke home Hearts’ equaliser was a pivotal moment in the game seven minutes from the end. And he did meant it – even if the assist didn’t come off quite as intended.
“I saw Uche and I was going to play it and then I slipped,” sniggered MacLean. “It got there eventually. However they go in doesn’t matter. Fortunately, it fell to Uche and he finished it well. We finished the game strongly and looked positive.
“Coming back from 1-0 down in a derby is good for the players’ mentality but it’s also good for the supporters to see that we have a bit of that in us. If things don’t go well for us, they can see we are going to fight back. I think that’s important.”
Indeed it is, particularly towards the end of a season which has contained its fair share of highs and lows for anyone of a Hearts persuasion. MacLean’s own form has probably followed the same peaks and troughs.
He started the campaign on fire as the Edinburgh club surged to the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership. The winter months brought difficulties and a dip which proved difficult to shrug off. However, MacLean is looking more like his old self and wants to seize any opportunity which comes his way tomorrow. He wants to prove he can be the catalyst for a strong end to the season at Tynecastle and at Hampden.
“It would be a big chance for me and I want that chance,” he said. “I’m not going to sit here and say that everybody in the changing room doesn’t have the cup final as their end goal, because they do. Everybody wants to play at Hampden, but these top-six games are all massive.”