Demetri Mitchell rejoined Hearts eager to showcase his true quality after injury interrupted his first six months in Scotland.
He still feels he has more to offer in maroon. Sunday against Rangers is an opportune time to produce it and help his team reacquaint themselves with the winning feeling.
The full-back left Manchester United in August for a second loan in Scotland and, along with his Tynecastle Park team-mates, enjoyed a scintillating spell early this season. He has fallen out of the team for the last two matches and admits he is still striving to cement a starting place.
Rangers visit Gorgie this weekend with Hearts desperate to break a miserable run of form. After topping the Premiership table from the opening day, they have lost four and drawn one of their last five games without scoring a goal. It is now 494 minutes since they last found the net.
Mitchell acknowledged that his personal performances have been steady but feels there is room for improvement. Having ignored interest from the English Championship plus other Scottish teams to return to Edinburgh, he is keen to fully engage with his “unfinished business”.
“There were other challenges I could’ve taken but I chose Hearts,” said the 21-year-old, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “I had a good spell on loan here from January until the summer and I thought: ‘Why not do it again?’ I learned so much and improved as a player so much just in those few months. Plus I got injured so I didn’t play as many games as I would’ve liked. I think I only got nine league games last season.
“I thought I would come back and show more of what I can do because I felt I had unfinished business. I only played 11 times in total. I felt the people up here had seen me but I still had more to show – and I still feel I haven’t shown that fully this season. I plan to show that for the remainder of it.
“I’ve played a lot of games so far, it’s been a steady start and hopefully I can kick on now. I also want to help the team kick on because we haven’t had the best run. I’ve had a solid start but I’m looking to cement my place in the team. I can definitely still offer more and I hope to show that to help us out of the sticky situation we are in.”
He uses the word “sticky” but everything is relative. Hearts are still only three points off the Premiership summit despite the downturn in form. Sunday is about putting a few wrongs right following the last meeting with Rangers.
“Playing Celtic and Rangers at Tynecastle is a different game from playing them away from home,” said Mitchell. “It’s a smaller pitch, we have the fans behind us and you can really feel the difference with them there. Sunday will be a completely different game from the one at Ibrox, that’s for sure.
“We lost two early goals at Ibrox [last month] and coming back from 2-0 down is always hard. The main thing is that we look to Sunday and try to put that right by putting in a good shift. We haven’t scored for a while and that’s been frustrating but hopefully it’s a different turn of events at the weekend.
“It’s a massive game and I think Tynecastle thrives when the bigger teams come here. I know the fans will be up for it and we’ll definitely be up for it as well.
“The thing about coming on loan to Scotland is you are playing against some big teams in some big stadiums. There are a lot of big clubs in the Scottish Premiership and you gain a lot of experience playing against them.
“It’s been almost a year now and it’s been a very good learning experience, both on the pitch and off the pitch. I’ve learned about playing for points and being involved in competitive football. When you’re playing reserves, it’s not competitive and there aren’t many fans there. Now I’m going to different stadiums all the time, playing at Celtic Park, Ibrox, Murrayfield. You are learning new things every months.”
Mitchell played left-wing for Hearts in his first appearance this season with Ben Garuccio at left-back. “We haven’t lined up like that too much. I played there against St Mirren but it’s always there in my arsenal. If I’m called on to do that I’ll do it but it’s down to the manager where he wants to play me. I’ve played a lot of games at left-back and I’m gaining more experience there.”
Regaining a staring spot is simply his first aim for Sunday. “I’m not low on confidence, I feel confident but it’s about helping the team right now. We are in a sticky situation. When the team is playing better, everybody plays better individually.
“We have trained and worked on a few things for Sunday, so hopefully we can sort things out then.”