Euan Henderson wants more chances to inject his pace into games as he fights to help Hearts
He is very much still seen as the quiet lad around Riccarton, the young protégé in among a group of experienced senior professionals.
Interviews are a rarity, yet Euan Henderson’s voice is getting slightly louder and his performances more apparent. He is now 20, a regular member of Hearts’ matchday squad and a player whose effect during games is becoming gradually greater.
Henderson is being used as an impact substitute while he matures and his career develops. It is a role he is growing accustomed to, albeit there is a natural desire to play from the start more often.
He is creating goals, such as Armand Gnanduillet’s equaliser against Queen of the South on Saturday. Occasionally he finds the net himself after climbing off the bench, like in the 4-0 win at Raith Rovers in January.
The youngster is versatile, quick and physically strong. Add some more aggression and Hearts could have a serious player on their hands. He is also learning fast. Results over the past week haven’t given him much choice, to be fair.
Tough few days
Henderson and his team-mates have endured a tough few days with well-publicised defeats to Brora Rangers and Queens. He is one of few to emerge from the debacles with any positives.
“I feel very embarrassed along with everyone else. You have to react in the best way possible, think positive and focus on the next game being better. It hasn’t been easy,” he admitted in an exclusive Evening News interview.
“I’ve got a wee bit of experience after being here for the last few years and being around the first team. That helped a bit. We need to just focus on the games ahead and make sure we win every match. That’s important for the boys, especially to get our confidence back.”
His endeavour off the bench on Saturday produced a cross for Gnanduillet to draw Hearts level at 2-2 before a late own goal handed Queen of the South victory. “We need that impact when the team isn’t doing it on the pitch,” he added.
“When I’m sitting on the bench, I watch the game to see what is missing. On Saturday, we were needing someone to take a player on and get the ball into the box.
“That was definitely missing because the first time I did it we scored. As a team, we need to do that more – take players on and cross the ball to get more chances. It’s a bit too sideways and backwards.
“When the game is late on it always needs a wee bit of an injection, especially if we’re losing. You need an injection of pace and creativity because the game just sort of stalled on Saturday.
“It was the same up in Brora as well. The game stalled and I came on because it was missing someone to take people on and deliver crosses.”
Run of games
Ultimately he wants to establish a starting berth. Josh Ginnelly is injured and unlikely to play again this season, while Jamie Walker often plays a more central role these days. There is a clear void on the right flank where Henderson has been deployed recently.
“I’d love to get a run of games. You want to play as a footballer, that’s always how it is. I’ve just kept my head down and been working hard but it’s not up to me,” he said.
“All I can control is how well I do in training and how well I do when I come on. It’s up to the manager to give me a run of games. I will just try to do my best.
“I like playing anywhere across the front. Being a lone striker isn’t really me. I’m not really a target man for holding the ball up. I’d say playing off a target man or playing as a winger suits me.
“Playing on the right wing is a bit new to me this season but I’ve got used to it. It’s getting a bit more natural. I played pretty much my whole youth career as an inverted winger, coming in off the left and getting into pockets.
“If the manager needs me to do a job on the right, I’ve certainly got enough pace to touch it and get a cross in.”
Henderson and Andy Irving are the only two recent Riccarton academy graduates to feature regularly for Hearts this term. “It’s nice that the coaching staff rate you,” explained Henderson.
“Me and Andy are the only two left from everyone else who was here [in the first-team squad] before. It's just getting that level of trust that the manager can have faith in you. Then he can play you every week.
“Hopefully on Saturday I showed the manager he can trust me. I mean, I came on at right wing-back and I’m a forward player. Right wing-back is not my most natural position but I thought I did okay.
“I’m just trying to play games and trying to prove myself, to be honest.”
There is also a motivation to help Neilson as pressure intensifies on the manager. “Yes, definitely. As long as I’m fighting for the manager, I’m fighting for the club and the fans as well,” added Henderson.
“I want this club to succeed and do well. When I’m coming on and we’re 2-1 down to Queen of the South, it’s not good enough. I just come on and give it my best. I made a good impact and helped the team get back to 2-2 but we ended up losing the game, so it’s not good enough.”