Steven MacLean has quashed suggestions he can’t play on astroturf and insisted he will “play in a car park” for Hearts if asked.
The 35-year-old striker scored his first competitive goal for the Edinburgh club on Cove Rangers’ new synthetic surface in Wednesday night’s Betfred Cup win. He stressed he wants to be involved in every Hearts game from now on.
St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright regularly left MacLean out of games on plastic pitches because of doctors’ advice following a previous knee injury. After leaving McDiarmid Park for Tynecastle Park this summer, concerns rose that the player could miss a quarter of Hearts’ Premiership away matches as Kilmarnock, Hamilton and Livingston all use astroturf.
MacLean stressed he is able to perform on any surface and rejected talk that he will sit out certain fixtures due to injury risk.
“I can play,” he insisted. “I said to the gaffer that I wanted to play on Wednesday and he picked me. I was going to play, simple as that. Whether he picks me on Saturday, it’s up to him. He’s in charge, if he wants me to play, I’ll play.
“If he wants me to play in the car park, I’ll play in the car park for Hearts. I just want to play games and do well and be enthusiastic. I’m here to play so I’m looking forward to it.
“Astroturf isn’t ideal but I said to the gaffer that I was comfortable to play. I’ve just been itching to get out there and make my competitive debut. I just want to play as many games as I can for Hearts, score goals, and hopefully win games.”
The forward admitted Wright tried to protect him by not selecting him on synthetic pitches towards the end of his six years in Perth.
“The gaffer at St Johnstone just took it out of my hands. Whether that’s right or wrong, I don’t know.”
MacLean justified new manager Craig Levein’s faith by scoring what proved to be the winning goal on his competitive debut against the Highland League champions. His close-range strike after Olly Lee’s opener put Hearts 2-0 ahead before Cove Rangers scored a consolation.
He is now determined to help Hearts through Betfred Cup Group C and into the knockout stages. “Hearts went out of the Betfred Cup last year at this stage so we’ve got make sure we don’t go out. We won 2-1, it’s three points, and we’ve got to make sure we win on Saturday against Raith and next Tuesday against Cowdenbeath, then Inverness the following Sunday.
“It will not be easy. Teams will see Hearts as a scalp and that’s why the game is on the TV because they’ll be looking for an upset. We’ve got to make sure our attitude is right and go and win games.
“This is a chance to win a cup. If you get through these group stages, you’re three games from a final. Simple as that. We had a chat about it and the guys did a presentation on it. We need to get to the next round to start with and we’ll take it from there.”
MacLean explained his sense of satisfaction from finally getting to play for Hearts eight years after being refused a contract. He was on trial at Riccarton in January 2010 and then-manager Csaba Laszlo was desperate to sign him. However, Vladimir Romanov and the club hierarchy at the time would not sanction the move.
“It did work out, he [Laszlo] wanted to sign me,” smiled the player. “I was hoping to sign then and when it came about this time I jumped at the chance. I met the gaffer, got on really well, and it was done in a day. I don’t have an agent. I did it myself.
“Ever since then I’ve just been champing at the bit to get going. I’ve done the running, done the pre-season, and I’ve just been itching to get playing. The competitive games are coming now. I’m just buzzing and want to play.”
Scoring his first goal in maroon made up for some of the frustration at being rejected by Romanov all those years ago. “I live in Peebles. I’d left my house and got five miles to Eddlestone and got told to turn back,” he recalled.
“It does make up for it. That was then, this is now. There’s a new regime and it’s exciting times here. It’s a great club, it’s a club going in the right direction. All the little things that they are doing is going to make big differences.
“As players, we need to make it work on the pitch. Nothing they’re doing off the pitch matters unless you take it to the pitch and win games.”