Conor Washington hopes to rekindle relationship with his secret weapon in Hearts squad
Conor Washington hopes a reunion with fellow Northern Ireland internationalist Michael Smith at Hearts can help him get back to his prolific best.
The 27-year-old has endured a frustrating time at club level in recent seasons after struggling to command regular game time at QPR and then Sheffield United since earning his big move to Loftus Road in January 2016.
Prior to that, Washington had been in the best form of his career after he scored 28 goals in a season-and-a-half as a team-mate of Smith’s at Peterborough United. Fifteen of those goals came in the first half of the 2015/16 season, prompting QPR to buy him. Washington admitted that right-back Smith was entitled to claim he’d played his part in his colleague earning his crack at the English Championship, and he is optimistic that they can renew their fruitful alliance at Tynecastle.
“We had a really good relationship on the pitch at Peterborough,” Washington told the Evening News. “He tells me all the time that he was the reason I got my move to QPR because of all the assists he got me. He did get me quite a few, to be fair. They came from early balls into the box, which I’m going to have to remind him of because I had to scream at him a few times (against Dundee United) on Friday to stick it in the box a bit earlier! It’s just a case of feeling our way back in, getting back on the same wavelength and knowing when the ball’s going to come into the box.”
Smith has become one of Hearts’ most dependable players since joining from Peterborough two years ago and Washington admits he’s been impressed with the way the 30-year-old has progressed since moving north. “I’d probably say he’s improved since I last played with him,” said the striker. “He’s always been composed but he’s even more composed now. He’s become a real leader as well. He always had that in him but he definitely seems to have developed it up here. You can see from his performances that he’s really enjoying his football. I actually saw him on TV last season playing in the middle of the park, which just shows what a good footballer he is. He’s got everything you’d want from a full-back. He’s getting on a bit but he’s still got a bit of pace about him.
“I always kept in touch with Michael and I had some good chats with him over the summer about coming to Hearts and he spoke really highly of the club. Seeing him do so well was a big factor in my decision to come here.”
Washington is confident his move to Hearts will allow him to reignite as a prolific striker. “I’ve definitely still got it in me if I get a run of games,” he said. “I had scored 15 goals by January in my last season at Peterborough, and you don’t ever lose that ability to score. It’s just about being given the platform to go and do it.”
Washington scored 14 goals in two and a half years at QPR and failed to score during his time at Sheffield United last term. Asked why things went so well for him at Peterborough in comparison, Washington said: “It was a combination of things. I had a manager who really believed in me and had the team playing to my strengths. That’s something I hope will happen here as well. The main thing, though, is that I got a run of games. At QPR and Sheffield United, I don’t think I started more than three or four games in a row, which, as a striker, is very disappointing. Obviously I wasn’t doing the business in the three or four games I was getting but once you get ten or 12 games under your belt, you feel a lot more natural on the ball and everything just comes to you that bit easier, so hopefully I get that chance here.”
Washington made his Hearts debut in Friday’s Betfred Cup draw with Dundee United and is in line to face Cowdenbeath at Central Park tonight. “It was just good to get 90 minutes in the legs because it’s been about 12 months since I last played a full game,” said Washington. “As a striker I’d expect to take three or four 90 minutes to get up to speed, but hopefully it’s a bit quicker than that. I had a couple of good games for Northern Ireland earlier this summer and got myself on the scoresheet, but I’m probably still a bit rusty at the moment.
“I just need to get a couple of goals and then I’ll be back on the trail of getting goals and minutes.”