Bjorn Johnsen still has much to prove at Hearts as his first anniversary in Edinburgh approaches. The giant American striker isn’t satisfied with his level of consistency or goals output and feels he has plenty more to offer.
His aim in the remaining three matches of the Ladbrokes Premiership campaign is to demonstrate his full capabilities to head coach Ian Cathro. It is no easy feat given those fixtures are away to Rangers tomorrow, away to St Johnstone next Wednesday and then away to champions Celtic a week on Sunday.
Johnsen joined Hearts last July but had to wait a month for his debut whilst FIFA investigated his transfer from the Bulgarian club Litex Lovech. Since then, he has scored six times in 34 appearances and recently fell out of the starting line-up.
The next three games offer a chance for the 25-year-old to prove he should be a central part of Cathro’s plans for next season. “I want to show him in these last three games that I can play. It’s my time to prove to everyone,” Johnsen told the Evening News.
“Two of the last three games are on BT or Sky. It’s my opportunity to show everyone my stock is high and it’s not affected since I haven’t got into the starting line-up recently. It’s also about showing Cathro I’m the player he knows I can be.”
The relationship between striker and manager is still developing. Cathro replaced Robbie Neilson, the man who brought Johnsen to Hearts, last December. Cathro’s style of play is different and he has certain specific ideas within his philosophy. Results confirm that some players are still adjusting.
“Right now, it’s just about trying to feel each other and feel how he wants to play me and what he wants to do with me,” explained Johnsen. “Does he want to play me in a certain way or not a certain way? I need to adapt to what he wants.
“When I got here, I had to adapt to the way Robbie played and I adapted really well. I just need to adapt more to how Cathro plays now. He’s very strict on tactics, positioning and where we need to be.
“If I don’t really do the right things then, of course he’s not going to be happy. Before, we had a little bit more freedom. Now it’s very strict in what we do. Sometimes it shows up well, sometimes not so well. We haven’t adapted well so we need to adapt more over pre-season.”
Tomorrow’s lunchtime fixture at Ibrox carries good omens for the 25-year-old. Two of his strongest displays in maroon so far came against Rangers earlier in the season and he seems to have a positive vibe about facing them.
He was impressive in both the 2-0 win over the Glasgow side in November – Neilson’s final match in charge – and the 4-1 victory against the same opponents in February. Cathro’s first match as Hearts head coach wasn’t quite as rewarding as Rangers won 2-0 at Ibrox in December.
“I always enjoy playing against Rangers,” said Johnsen “I really enjoyed the last game we played, and I enjoyed the game at Ibrox last time even though we lost 2-0 there. We scored in that game but it was disallowed, although it wasn’t actually offside.
“I like playing against the big clubs. These are the games on TV and you want to show yourself and the team are up for the challenge. Even in the other countries I’ve played, Bulgaria and Portugal, the big games are the ones you wake up to and want to play.
“You want to play in them every year. Now I need to up my level when I play against the lesser teams.”
Video analysis is a huge part of any professional football club nowadays and Hearts are no different. Players spent some of their time at Riccarton yesterday watching videos of themselves and of previous outings against Rangers.
Johnsen will do his own additional research ahead of tomorrow’s encounter. “I will look back on the last Rangers games and look back on what I did right. I’ll try to continue to do those things right.
“You shouldn’t change the way you’re playing if it’s working, so I’ll definitely look at it to see what I can do even better. I wasn’t very successful last time at Ibrox so I want to get a better return if I get to play.
“It’s really difficult because everyone is trying to focus on their own game and then we don’t play well. We come in together and watch videos, trying to make sure we do every job for the better of the team and not just for ourselves.”
His first season in Scotland has been a myriad of highs and lows, hence the craving for greater consistency heading into the new campaign. “It’s gone to the top height you can go and it’s gone pretty low as well. I think I need to find more consistency,” admitted Johnsen.
“I had that for a small period of time but I want to make sure I can do that throughout a full year. I see other guys who can do that, like Scott Sinclair at Celtic, and they end up Player of the Year.
“I think I can be at that stature if I continue my consistency over a longer period. Overall, it’s not been a bad first season but I expect more from myself. Hopefully I will do well when I get back into it next year.
“I definitely have a platform to build here, to show what I’m worth. I want to show everybody and show myself for other people to see as well. I feel a lot of people have seen some good sides of me and also seen some not so good sides. It’s hard to judge when you need to show a bit more.”