Conor Washington: Hearts have enough games to avoid dreaded drop

Conor Washington equalisesConor Washington equalises
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Striker insists outcome is in hands of the players

On one hand, Hearts have lost only two of their past 12 games, are no longer leaking goals and are creating plenty scoring chances. On the other, they still continue to slip away from relegation rivals Hamilton and St Mirren, who are scratching out some unexpected results.

Daniel Stendel and his players did not know whether to laugh or cry leaving Tynecastle Park on Saturday evening. A 1-1 draw with third-placed Motherwell was a reasonable result supported by a strong display. Yet they still fell a further point adrift at the foot of the Ladbrokes Premiership because ten-man Hamilton won at home to Kilmarnock.

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Hearts’ focus is on maintaining form and sticking to long-held belief that they will not go down. They head to Paisley on Wednesday for the proverbial six-pointer against St Mirren.

“Nine more of those performances should get us over the line. That’s what we need to build on,” said striker Conor Washington, who scored his side’s equaliser after half-time to cancel out Chris Long’s opening goal.

“Some of the lads who hadn’t played were looking and they let us know the other scores when we came in. It’s still very much in our hands. If we go and win the next nine games, we stay up. That’s got to be the aim.

“If you take everyone else’s result out of it, then it has been a good week for us beating Rangers and Hibs. No bones about it, Motherwell are a good side who are third in the table for a reason. They have a set way of playing and we managed to nullify that. Their goal was a bit of a freak one. They got a little bit of luck there. It only looked like one team would win the game and that was us.”

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Craig Halkett’s attempted clearance hit Long, who seized on the loose ball to round Zdenek Zlamal and score for Motherwell on 21 minutes. Jermaine Hylton might have earned a penalty when he was challenged going past Zlamal inside the penalty area soon after. Referee Don Robertson ignored the visitors’ vociferous claims.

Washington then converted his second goal in two games from Steven Naismith’s left-sided cutback to bring Hearts level within five minutes of the restart. Both teams had opportunities to win the game thereafter, with Zlamal denying both Long and Hylton before Naismith and substitute Liam Boyce passed up late chances at the opposite end.

“It’s nice to be playing up top and getting goals,” said Washington. “I’m starting to feel more comfortable in my own body again. It was tough mentally coming back from my first-ever injury but I feel really good now.

“Hopefully that’s showing on the pitch “I just like running around, to be honest. The goals help. If I contribute to the

team performing well, all the better.”

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The Northern Ireland forward also had some encouraging words for Naismith and Boyce after their late

aberrations.

“Put those lads in that position again and they will put it in the back of the net nine times out of ten. We just have to keep creating the chances. I don’t think they were as easy as they looked. The pitch made it very difficult because it was really bouncy.

“Jamie [Walker] played one in to me and it bounced around my hip, then Naisy played one into him and it bounced around his hip. Those bounces just aren’t going for us at the minute.

“With the effort and performance levels we’ve been putting in, I think we will end up getting that bit of luck we need.”

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What Hearts require to haul themselves out of the relegation zone is fight and defiance, allied to creativity and clinical finishing. They don’t appear to be too far off on the evidence of the last three matches against Rangers, Hibs and Motherwell.

“It’s going to be a scrap,” said Washington.

“We’ve said in the past few weeks that we have to win that battle first. We played better football than Motherwell in the second half and they are a footballing side. The manager wants us to be patient on the ball which is tough in our situation.

“You have to win those battles first and it is going to be a scrap.”

Stendel is certainly up for it. Hearts finished the match with five forwards on the field - Washington, Naismith, Boyce, Walker and Ryotaro Meshino.

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“That’s encouraging and shows his [Stendel’s] trust in us,” said Washington.

““We just need to reward him with more points and wins to get us out of this situation. We go into Wednesday’s game and should be full of confidence after our performance against Motherwell.”

Hearts (4-2-3-1): Zlamal; M Smith, Halkett, Dikamona, Hickey; Damour, Bozanic (Boyce 45); Clare (Walker 28), Naismith, Moore (Meshino 80); Washington. Unused subs: Pereira, Langer, Irving, Henderson.

Motherwell (4-3-3): Gillespie; Grimshaw, Gallagher, Hartley, Tait; Campell (Maguire 18), O’Hara, Polworth (Turnbull 73); Aarons, Long, Hylton. Unused subs: Carson, Maciver, Watt, Seedorf, Manzing

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