Craig Levein believes Hearts striker Uche Ikpeazu can be a key player with or without his name on the scoresheet.
The manager was delighted with the Englishman’s contribution to Saturday’s opening Premiership win at Hamilton despite the fact he did not claim a goal of his own.
Ikpeazu scored three times in his previous two games before making his league debut in Lanarkshire. His imposing style caused a multitude of problems for the Hamilton defence, and he also stroked an intelligent through pass to assist Steven MacLean for Hearts’ fourth in the 4-1 victory.
Levein replaced Ikpeazu with Kyle Lafferty 12 minutes from the end and professed himself perfectly satisfied with the former Cambridge United forward’s efforts.
“The important thing is for him is to realise he can contribute to the team in other ways. He doesn’t need to score every week, although he wants to, of course,” said Levein, speaking on Hearts TV.
“I would like to see him score every week but he was so unselfish with his running and link-up play. The pass he put through for Steven was sublime. He deserved just as much praise for Saturday’s performance as he did the previous Sunday [against Inverness].”
Hearts drew plenty praise for the manner of their victory, which followed two successive 5-0 wins against Cowdenbeath and Inverness in the Betfred Cup.
Levein is keen not to look too far ahead. He feels there is room for more improvement with Celtic due to visit Tynecastle Park for a 12.30pm kick-off this Saturday.
The 2,663 Hearts fans who travelled to Hamilton will have been encouraged by what they witnessed. “I’m pleased they’re getting to see the team performing,” added the manager.
“Obviously it’s early in the season and there is a long way to go. I don’t want to get carried away. Once we’ve played all 11 of our opponents then I’ll have a better idea of where we are.
“Some players have made me think we can keep improving. I thought our goalkeeper and two centre-backs were fantastic on Saturday. That’s the basis of what everything is built on.”