While many observers are of the view that Hearts’ season is effectively over, Danny Amankwaa feels his campaign is just getting started.
A run of five games without a win over the past four weeks has served to rule the Tynecastle side out of the race for a European place and end their participation in the Scottish Cup.
Although a scrap for fifth place is unlikely to be getting anyone in Gorgie overly excited in the coming weeks, Hearts’ remaining eight Premiership games are anything but meaningless for Amankwaa as he strives to make a belated impact in maroon.
Since arriving in late January from FC Copenhagen, the 24-year-old Danish winger has started only one game out of a possible nine for Hearts – the 1-0 home win over St Johnstone five weeks ago – after he was temporarily removed from the match-day equation in order to increase his fitness levels.
Amankwaa, having been badly restricted by injury in recent seasons, was happy to undergo a mini pre-season with fitness staff at Riccarton in order to get himself equipped for the rigours of Scottish football and, after coming off the bench in each of the last three matches, he now feels ready to start making his presence felt.
“We don’t have many games left but hopefully I can start playing from the start and show people how good I am,” he told the Evening News.
“I feel a lot sharper now than when I first arrived. I knew when I came in I wasn’t 100 per cent. Before I signed, I had just come back from the holidays (winter break) and I hadn’t trained properly for a week because my old team was away at training camp and I wasn’t away with them so I was only working in the gym in that time.
“I knew I needed time to get up to speed but I just wanted to play when I first signed. In the first couple of games, my technique was still there but my running capacity wasn’t, so after one or two sprints, I was tired and needed a breather.
“The manager could see I needed a bit of extra fitness work and we decided I should come out of the team for a couple of weeks. He wants me to show how good I am and I can only do that when I am fully fit.
“I don’t want to go out in front of new fans and everybody thinks I’m not very good, so I thought it was a good idea from the manager. It was really intense work I did. I did a lot of extra running with the fitness coach after training. It was like pre-season. It was hard and it wasn’t much fun but I feel much better now and I’m ready to show it. I also need match fitness now, but that will come.”
Amankwaa knows Craig Levein took a gamble when he signed him given his injury problems in recent seasons. He is well aware that the manager demands high work-rate from all his players and has spent the past month working diligently to ensure he equipped to go past opponents and also adequately fulfil his defensive duties.
“It’s very important that the manager believes in you and I feel like he believes in me,” said Amankwaa. “I want to show him he can rely on me. I have had to do the extra running because I was not fit enough to do the extra running defensively. I could do the offensive stuff okay, but the defensive stuff was a bit of a struggle. When I’m fit, I’m totally comfortable doing my defensive duties. I don’t like a guy just running past me – that annoys me. I will always track back.”
Given that he hasn’t had a proper chance to showcase his qualities since arriving in Edinburgh, Amankwaa took the opportunity to recap what type of player he is. In short, he believes he can make Hearts a more dangerous attacking force when playing at full pelt.
“I am stronger on my right foot but I like to play on the left,” said Amankwaa, who hopes to start against Partick Thistle at Tynecastle tomorrow. “I like to cut inside, play one-twos and look for openings to create rather than go to the line. I also like playing through the middle because I think I’m a goalscorer but I haven’t shown enough of that side of my game. Hopefully, I can show it here. My aim is to chip in with lots of assists and goals.”
Despite his shortage of action so far, Amankwaa has enjoyed his early weeks in Edinburgh. Having signed a contract until summer 2019, he is already looking forward to next season. “I like it here and I like the city,” said Amankwaa.
“My team-mates have been showing me around – I like it. I am happy with my decision to come here. I am alone here just now but my girlfriend will come over after the international break.
“Next season is very important for me. I will be here from the start (as opposed to arriving mid-season) which is very important for me, so I’m looking forward to that.”