Defending with tenacity and marauding up the right flank with energy and enthusiasm, Connor Randall is revelling in the chance to play his favoured position on a regular basis at Hearts.
Having been deployed primarily in central midfield in the opening months of the season following his arrival on a season-long loan from Liverpool, the 22-year-old struggled to generate any momentum.
His best performances in the early part of the campaign came when he was used at right-back – at home to Aberdeen in September and away to Ross County in October, prior to his red card, for instance. His worst, by contrast, came in the derby defeat by Hibs at Easter Road when he was deployed in an admittedly under-strength engine room shortly before falling out of the team for most of November. His return to the starting XI, in his favoured right-back role, last month coincided with Hearts embarking on a seven-game run without conceding a goal. Randall has started six of those matches, only missing the recent draw in Aberdeen with a broken hand.
“The manager at the time (Ian Cathro) might have had different ideas, but I just came to Hearts to play so I’d play wherever the manager wanted me,” Randall told the Evening News. “I was never too fussed about playing a specific position, but right-back has been my position for the last four or five years. I played midfield when I was younger but I feel like my natural position is right-back. I feel like my performance levels are better when I play there. Obviously we’ve had good team performances as well lately, which helps.”
Since becoming a regular at right-back, Randall has endeared himself to supporters with his committed approach. “The fans want to see effort from the players and I think we’re all giving them that,” he said. “Every time I play, I just want to do everything I can for the team. I play with passion and I think that’s just part of my character. Obviously every time I go on the pitch I want to win. I’m fully committed when I play, and if the fans appreciate that, it’s a bonus.”
Spirits are high in the Hearts camp ahead of tonight’s trip to Hamilton Accies after they made it ten games in a row unbeaten and seven in succession without conceding a goal when defeating Hibs for the first time in three and a half years in Sunday’s Scottish Cup tie.
“It was a big win for us and obviously it was long overdue as well, so it was a good feeling,” said Randall. “All the lads and the fans are really happy. The team’s in a much better place now than when I first arrived and that’s showing in our performances. Everyone’s still working as hard as they ever were, but I feel like a lot of things are starting to come together now.
“The unbeaten run is great for the club and it’s good to be involved in that. It’s just a reflection of the hard work the staff and the players are putting in all week. Everybody is working hard and these results are the reward. We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing and hopefully the run will continue.
“Confidence in football is massive. When a team’s got confidence they can look totally different, and I think that’s starting to show for us. We’ve got a lot of good players and a lot of lads coming back from injury. We’ve got a good squad now so hopefully we can have a good push in the second half of the season and have a real good run of results.”
Randall is benefitting from his first sustained run of first-team football after struggling to command regular game time as a young player coming through at Anfield. Hearts manager Craig Levein told the Evening News that he has been impressed with the way the Scouser has bought into the culture of the club. “I’m loving it here, I’m really enjoying it,” he said. “I’m getting a lot of games in, and playing at Tynecastle in front of our fans compared to playing away and at Murrayfield every week at the start of the season has made a massive difference. I like the way we’re playing and the way things are going, so hopefully it can continue for the rest of the season.”
Upon expiry of his loan deal in the summer, Randall will have one further year left on his contract at Liverpool. It remains to be seen if the former England Under-21 internationalist will be back at Tynecastle next season. “It’s not something I’m thinking about just now,” he said, when asked what the future holds. “I’m just concentrating on trying to help Hearts get the best result game by game and trying to help the team back up to where they belong. I’m not thinking too far ahead.
“When it comes towards the end of the season, I’ll think about my future then. I’ve got another year left at Liverpool, but I’ve not had any indication what their plans are for me. I’m sure we’ll speak in the summer, but at this point I’m just focused on this season and doing the best I can.”