Exclusive: Armand Gnanduillet explains his Hearts frustration and praises playing style as he waits to start more games
If Armand Gnanduillet is growing frustrated a month into his Hearts career, it may be because team-mates are still figuring him out.
He is eager to start matches and get scoring regularly but feeds off a supply of crosses which right now is intermittent. The Edinburgh club managed just one goal in each of their last five games – three of them belonging to Liam Boyce and two to Jamie Walker.
Gnanduillet has hitherto played a bit-part role, although he stressed he is not here simply to admire others from the technical area. One start and four substitute appearances are his lot with no goals since a double on his debut at Raith Rovers at the end of January.
The striker’s finishing ability and movement were perfectly illustrated that night in Kirkcaldy. An encore is much-anticipated, with Hearts players sometimes looking reluctant to deliver the kind of service Gnanduillet needs.
Friday night’s 1-1 draw in Inverness was one such example. A team can monopolise possession all day and point to statistics backing that up, but when your centre-forward is a mobile unit standing 6ft 4ins tall who loves heading, width and crosses are a priority.
Headed goals a strength
Team-mates are being encouraged to deliver balls into the penalty area and let the imposing Frenchman do his thing.
“To be honest, that’s my game. I am in there waiting for some balls,” he said, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “I have been here for a month playing with the lads. I can say that this team keeps the ball the most, so it’s different than when I was in England.
“I have to adapt myself but, for me, I think we have to cross more. Put the ball in behind the defence because defenders don’t like to run towards their goal.
“When I came on at Inverness there were some crosses but the conditions were not the best. It was not easy for me or Boycie to head the ball. We tried our best but it did not work.
“I’m a big guy but I can run, I can jump and I can head the ball to score goals. Headed goals is one of my strengths. When I don’t have a lot of crosses it is a bit frustrating, but as I said the team play very good football as well.
“The ball is on the floor, there are not too many long balls, and I like that as well. I just to have to adapt myself and hope it is going to come.”
Gnanduillet is a very different proposition to the more technique-based Boyce, or indeed the industrious Craig Wighton before he joined Dunfermline.
He scored 18 times in 36 appearances for English League One club Blackpool last season – eight of them with his head.
Hearts players find themselves needing to change gameplan when Gnanduillet enters the fray and flicking that switch does not always happen in unison.
The 29-year-old is undeterred, though. He is pushing for a starting place against Dundee this weekend at Tynecastle Park and firmly believes goals will soon arrive.
“It’s not going to take long. If I scored on Friday I would say: ‘Yes, I’m 100 per cent.’ I’m fit and I’m ready to come on or I’m ready to start. I will give 100 per cent,” he said.
“Every player wants to play. I didn’t come here to just sit on the bench and watch the lads playing, then come on and try to score. Of course everyone wants to start.
“I’m a winner, I want to play, I want to score, I want to assist and I want to help the team defensively and offensively. If the manager needs me or wants me to start, that’s why I came here so I will be ready.
“I had never been to Inverness but I can tell you it’s not an easy place to play. We started not so well and we were punished. We tried our best to get back into the game.
“To get back to winning, I think we must be more ruthless in front of goal. We have to put crosses into the box, take shots, be clever and be positive.”
Most observers would tend to agree. There are nine games left in this truncated Championship campaign and it remains to be seen who makes the cut for next season if Hearts earn Premiership promotion.
Gnanduillet signed an 18-month contract in January and is gradually feeling stronger. “To be honest, I feel well. I did not expect myself to feel this good after being here a month,” he said.
“Before this, I was not playing regularly for some months. I have worked with the physios and I feel very good in my body. In my head now, like every striker, it’s about confidence. Soon I will start scoring, it will come, I am sure about this.”
He is acutely aware that a run of goals now could secure the title for his new club. However, he is too experienced to look that far ahead just yet.
“Well, personally I don’t really look at the league table. I look at each game,” he stated. “I’m not like: ‘Yeah, we are 12 points in front so it’s okay.’ As you saw on Friday, it wasn’t an easy game.
“We need to settle down, talk between us and get back working in training to find a way to score goals. If we keep a clean sheet as well, then we will win games.”