“I don’t think the Hearts fans have seen anything of me yet, if I’m honest.” Preparing to return from a three-month absence at Dens Park this afternoon, Hearts striker Craig Wighton acknowledges he has ground to make up.
He left today’s opponents Dundee for Tynecastle Park last August but didn’t do himself justice. An ankle injury has sidelined him since December 5 and he insists Hearts supporters have been given a false impression of him so far.
“The games I played in, we were on a bad run and I never performed. That’s the most frustrating thing. When I did play, I didn’t perform then I got injured. It’s been frustrating. They have not seen the best of me but this is the best I’ve felt and if I do get a chance I will be ready.”
Wighton scored twice in a 9-1 midweek reserve mauling of Partick Thistle and is back in Hearts’ first-team squad for the league meeting with Dundee. Manager Craig Levein certainly hasn’t lost faith after paying an undisclosed fee to lure him from Tayside.
“He’s brought me here for a reason. He thinks I can help the team and it’s good to know he believes in me regardless if I have had a couple of bad games. It’s now up to me to repay him.
“It’s been a while since I played for the first team. It was a bit frustrating with injury and the last few weeks I’ve not been up to speed so it’s important that I’ve had reserve games and I’m feeling sharp again. Hopefully I’ll be called upon at some point.
“When I first came in I hadn’t played much at Dundee so when I did, I wasn’t up to speed and didn’t perform. Getting reserve games back-to-back, training fully every week, it’s the sharpest I’ve felt in a while.”
Wighton has no concerns about returning to action at a venue which was home throughout his formative footballing years. Former Dundee manager Neil McCann was happy to let him leave when Hearts lodged their offer and the player felt a change was necessary.
“When I heard Hearts were interested I wanted to go but I felt Dundee did not try their hardest to keep me, as such. It was a no-brainer to come here. I wasn’t playing much under the manager who was there at that time so I had to get away. I couldn’t turn down the chance to come here. But Dundee fans are always good to me.”
The main reason for that is he scored a 93rd-minute winning goal to relegate city rivals Dundee United three years ago. They have yet to return to Scotland’s top flight and Wighton’s strike is etched in Dens Park folklore. He is asked about it frequently.
“I still get that quite a lot, yes. But it would be nice to score for Hearts so it’s not just that goal. It’s all anybody speaks about. It was a nice moment at the time for me and my family but it was a while ago now so I don’t think about it too much.”
He needs to curry favour with Hearts fans now, especially following news that top goalscorer Steven Naismith’s season could be over due to a knee injury. “I’d like to think I’ll get a nice reception [from Dundee fans] but it doesn’t bother me too much, as long as we go up there and get the three points. The frustrating thing for me is when I have played, I’ve not scored yet. The longer it goes on, the more frustrating it gets so if I do play or come on, I’ll be looking to score.”
Will he celebrate against the team who reared him from teenage protege into a senior Premiership forward?
“Of course, yes. I’m at Hearts now. I appreciate what Dundee did for me but if I score my first goal for Hearts I’m going to celebrate regardless of who it comes against.”