Exclusive: Beni Baningime explains why Hearts must wake up to realise this season's aims
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The Congolese feels settled in Edinburgh and plays regularly as an established member of the Tynecastle club’s midfield. In that sense, transferring north is already a considerable success.
The season’s ambitions have still to be realised, though, and that issue is occupying Baningime’s thoughts ahead of Saturday’s Premiership visit to St Mirren. Hearts have won just one of their last seven matches inside 90 minutes and are striving to overcome a form slump.
They are still third in the top flight with a nine-point advantage over the teams below. St Mirren are one of those hoping to produce a late surge into the European places after replacing Jim Goodwin with Stephen Robinson as manager.
For Hearts, now would be an ideal juncture to rediscover the performances which made them such a formidable force during Baningime’s early months in Scotland.
“One a personal note, it has been a good season but we haven’t achieved the goals we want to yet. That’s always in the back of your mind,” he said in an exclusive Evening News interview.
“Until you achieve that, it hasn’t really been a good season yet. So far it’s going well and if we get third and push ourselves far in the cup to try and win it, plus get our performances back as well, I think overall it will be a good season.
“Let’s wake ourselves up a little bit and actually push on. If we were at our best all this time we could have stretched our lead. Nine points is a comfort zone but it also isn’t.
“Two bad results and two good results for another team and you are looking over your shoulder. I’m just hoping to qualify for Europe and then see what happens in the cup.”
Opponents have bulged Hearts’ net with worrying ease in recent weeks. Arresting slack defending would appear to be key to a revival of results, hence fans’ delight at goalkeeper Craig Gordon and central defender Craig Halkett returning to training.
“We have been a little bit sloppy at times,” admitted Baningime. “We were really solid at the start of the season but now we are conceding sloppy goals. When that happens, you put yourself under pressure. We need to get back to being solid and hard to beat. We have great players who will always create chances for us.”
If anyone relaxed when the lead in third spot peaked at ten points, they will now be thinking again. Nobody at Riccarton has admitted to any complacency and the reasonable assumption is that Hearts are enduring what most teams do at some point during a demanding campaign – a dip in form which brings a sequence of disappointing results.
“I don’t believe it’s complacency,” added Baningime. “I think every team has this, a period where things aren’t going well for you. You need to work hard for each other and our abilities will show when we become solid.
“It’s those second balls and things you don’t really want to do, the ugly side of the game. Out of that fight our quality will start to show again. When results aren’t going your way, then you go that extra yard and then you get the quality back and start rolling again.”
The player himself hopes to regain a place in Hearts’ starting line-up this weekend after watching last week’s loss at St Johnstone from the substitutes’ bench. He missed two months of football between November and January because of a knee injury.
He doesn’t allow such problems to overly unsettle him, and likewise refuses to scale the heights of euphoria when everything goes well. It is the mindset of a footballer determined to stay focused, especially as the season enters its business end.
“I’m 100 per cent. I’m just trying to get back to the levels I was at before my injury. I don’t think I’m far away,” smiled Baningime. “The knee is good except for little niggles. My primary objective is to get back into the team and then perform as well as I did before.
“Even when I play well, I go home and forget about it. I learned that from the bad times. You need to be able to get away from football if it’s good or it’s bad. I just get away from social media and everything people are saying.
“When you don’t, you get invested in it. You go into a game nervous and you care because you are only human. I went off social media quite a while ago. I don’t really look at what people are saying about me or the team. That’s the best way for me to switch off. I’m not looking for it.”
Saturday’s challenge for Hearts is somewhat more complicated by the arrival of a new manager in Paisley. Robinson, the former Motherwell coach, left Morecambe to rejoin the cinch Premiership earlier this week.
Saints players will be motivated to impress as a new era begins, and Hearts must match the challenge if they want a result.
“Whenever a new manager comes in, you see a difference in people,” said Baningime. “I don’t know what it is, it’s just a fresh air. Players seem to really thrive from that so we have to make sure we are on it. We know they will definitely be up for it.”