Euan Henderson: In-form striker on improving at Alloa and proving himself at Hearts
It is a big season for the 22-year-old striker, who joined Hearts five years ago and has found himself on the fringes of the first team ever since.
Manager Robbie Neilson has now made it clear he is in the first-team squad and deserves his chance. Henderson feels ready to take it.
The contract extension he signed in February, extending his stay in Gorgie until next summer, suggests Neilson and the coaching staff always had plenty of belief in his ability to become an established first-team player.
What Henderson needed was to believe in himself – and last season’s loan at Alloa Athletic has helped him do just that.
The former Stewart’s Melville pupil and Scotland age-grade rugby international found the net with regularity for the League 1 club last season, scoring all kinds of goals. He signed off with four in one game in the 4-1 demolition of Montrose to reach 18 for the season in 27 appearances.
Henderson has picked up where he left off by bagging three goals in four pre-season matches for Hearts so far and feels his game has improved.
“I’m feeling good,” he told the Edinburgh Evening News. “Feeling sharp, feeling fit. It’s good to be back playing at Hearts again and scoring goals. That’s what I do in the team, so it’s all good.
“My confidence in front of goal is pretty good.
“I think the loan last season helped a lot. I think I just calmed down in front of goal.
“I’m picking my spots better and finding it much easier to finish. I’m in a good place.
“Getting that maturity of playing week-in, week-out. Playing games. You start to learn the games better than you do if you’re just coming on for five or 10 minutes.
“If you play 90 minutes, you learn the game more and get more chances in front of goal. I think I’ve got good composure in front of goal now.
“Getting those minutes and playing week in, week out and scoring goals helped me tremendously. I’m trying to continue where I left off, adopting the same mindset, doing what I was doing at Alloa and carrying it on back here at Hearts.”
Henderson kept himself ticking over in the summer, determined to return to Riccarton in good shape to get off to a flyer. It has worked.
“That’s one thing I’ve learned since being in full-time football,” he said.
“You can’t really stop running and keeping yourself fit, so I’ll always keep doing that.”
Fitter and more confident, Henderson is also more experienced.
Playing regularly for Alloa and improving throughout the season certainly helped, but Henderson also sought advice from Liam Boyce and Ellis Simms on the training ground to help his development.
He continued to train full-time with Hearts while training and playing part-time for Alloa and did not waste the opportunity.
He said: “Boycey is good. If I need to ask him a question I’ll ask him and he always gives me a good answer and we have a chat. He’s really supportive. Any question I ask, he’s really helpful.
“I ask him questions about what I should do in certain situations in front of goal and how to create space. It’s really good to have him around.
“Ellis was good at creating space for himself before shooting. I asked him as well: when you get the ball near the box what are you thinking. He was a good guy and very approachable. He’d tell what he’d do in certain situations, which helps. I’d think about these things and take it into the game I knew I’d be playing for Alloa.
“It was about putting things together, which I think has helped me.”
Henderson has scored against FC Europa, Spartans and Bonnyrigg Rose, despite his game time being restricted as is the way of things during pre-season when multiple subs are used.
He is well aware a new striker is top of the club’s summer shopping list, but it is not something he is concerning himself with. It is outwith his control and all Henderson can do is make an impact when he gets the opportunity. It’s a mindset which is working well so far.
“Obviously It’s not up to me who plays,” he said. “When I do get minutes, I’ll keep trying to score and help the team the best way I can. That’s all I can do. There are a lot of games still coming up before the start of the season and when the season starts there will be a lot of games, so there’s lots to look forward to. We’ll see what happens. If I can keep scoring goals, hopefully it puts me in a better position.”
Henderson is well aware this is probably a make-or-break season at Hearts, and even though his latest deal expires next summer he isn’t looking that far ahead.
“Obviously I’d like to be here,” he said. “This is the club who signed me. All I can do is play games and prove I can score goals. I’d be happy with that.”
“If I get the opportunity to establish myself, great.
“For me, it is about proving something to myself I can play and score goals.
“There are a lot of games and there will be rotations in the squad, so hopefully I will get game time.
“Being with the lads all the time every day is good. There’s a good buzz around the club after last season, so it’s a good place to be, a good place to train and play right now. I’m looking forward to this season.”