Two goals in 12 Hearts appearances isn’t enough to satisfy Adam Eckersley. He is adamant he can offer more and bring a greater attacking threat, starting at Cowdenbeath tomorrow. Bearing in mind he’s a left-back, it’s quite a bold statement.
The 29-year-old has yet to complete four months in Edinburgh but he lacks nothing in ambition. Having already proven himself a defender capable of competing with Kevin McHattie on the left, Eckersley wants to address the attacking aspects of his game.
He is seeking to strike up a rapport with one of the Hearts wingers which would allow him to get forward more during matches. With Sam Nicholson, Billy King and Jamie Walker being rotated frequently this season, that hasn’t been an easy task to date.
Nonetheless, the Englishman feels he can produce more for the Hearts fans. He told the Evening News that going forward is the one side to him which has yet to fully emerge since he arrived in Scotland from Denmark.
“I basically came in here with no pre-season under my belt and starting from the ground trying to build up. I’m still piecing my game together,” he said today.
“I have got a forward side to my game that I don’t think the Hearts fans have really seen yet. I’m also playing with different wingers each week. I’ve played with Sam, Billy, Jamie and young Robbie [Buchanan]. I’m just trying to find that connection with somebody in front of me to get a real good partnership going. That would help bring out my strengths going forward.
“I’ve definitely got more to offer. I’m not just a defender. In Denmark I was renowned for getting forward, making goals and scoring goals. Obviously defending is my priority first and foremost but I do love to get forward and score. I also like to help the strikers out and try to get them goals as well.
“I knew Hearts and I came here for a few days before I actually signed. I saw they had good players and good facilities. It’s a massive club and I’m really enjoying my time here. That’s been enhanced by the way things are going at the club. I’ve really got nothing to complain about right now. Things are going good for me and I’m happy.
“To be honest, I wasn’t too bothered about not starting matches in the beginning. I had a broken ankle in Denmark last year and I played two games in all last season. Now I’m playing and I’m enjoying it and long may it continue.”
Eckersley spent six years in Denmark altogether but the second season stands out most in his mind. His club, Horsens, had suffered relegation from the top flight and began rebuilding. They pulled together, determined to gain automatic promotion at the first attempt. They embarked upon a remarkable unbeaten run as belief and camaraderie within the squad grew week by week. Sound familiar?
“In Denmark, we had the same kind of feeling in the dressing room as we have right now at Hearts,” explained Eckersley. “I went to a team that got relegated but then we lost one game all year and won all the rest. So I have been in a situation like this before and it’s a great atmosphere. You never get sick and tired of coming into the dressing room every morning when everybody’s buzzing.”
In Britain, the congested period of games during the winter is seen as crucial for any team with designs on winning a title. Hearts entered that phase of the campaign last week with a 4-1 win over Queen of the South, which kept them nine points clear of Rangers at the top of the Scottish Championship. Head coach Robbie Neilson has also been named manager of the month for November, winning the accolade for the third time in four months.
“If we can keep this run going, it’s fantastic for the players and the fans,” said Eckersley. “For the whole atmosphere around the club and everybody involved, it’s just a great feeling. We have played nearly half the games now. If we can still remain undefeated coming out of the Christmas period into January, I think things will be looking really good.”
To maintain the momentum, Hearts face the difficult task of winning at Cowdenbeath tomorrow afternoon. The hardest part is negotiating the bleak surroundings of Central Park. Eckersley has yet to experience the Fife venue as Hearts’ “preparatory” trip there in August took place before he signed. However, he is relishing a challenge like no other he has ever encountered in a career which includes spells at Manchester United, Royal Antwerp, Brondby, Port Vale, Horsens and Aarhus.
“If you want to get promoted, you’ve got to go to places like this and play these kinds of teams,” he said. “The gaffer has done video analysis with us this week and from what I can see the pitch looks very narrow. The facilities don’t look the best but we’ve still got to go there and get three points.
“I don’t think I’ve come up against anything to this extent. With the dirt track for the stock car racing, it’s going to be a first for me. I’m looking forward to it, to be fair. It’s a different kind of challenge but I’m open to it.
“A game of football is a game of football and every team has to go to the same places. At the end of the day, we have an opportunity to go there and show the fans that we aren’t just a footballing side. We can show we can scrape results even when things are getting scrappy or the pitch isn’t the size we’re used to.”
The size of the pitch may mean a different approach from Neilson. His team have impressed playing high-tempo passing football with a cutting edge this season but Central Park is not conducive to such a style.
“Looking at the weather just now, I don’t think the pitch is going to be the best so playing football is probably going to be difficult,” said Eckersley. “We might have to look at a different way of playing and go more direct. I think it’s going to be a bit scrappy but we definitely have the players in the dressing room to get three points.”