Gary Mackay-Steven upbeat despite Dundee miss as he explains what more he can offer Hearts
A chat with Gary Mackay-Steven would brighten anyone’s mood. At a time when mental health is a challenge for many due to lockdown restrictions, the Hearts winger is positive, friendly and upbeat.
The ability to laugh came in rather useful after events at Tynecastle Park last weekend. Mackay-Steven produced both the risible and the sublime during Hearts’ 2-1 win against Dundee but isn’t the type to get hung up on either.
A quite inexplicable miss in front of goal preceded his exquisite cross ball for Armand Gnanduillet to score what became the decisive second. Mackay-Steven openly admits he took pelters in the dressing room for the former but the latter helped atone somewhat.
The player hasn’t watched any replays of the miss and has no intention of doing. With Hearts leading 1-0, Gnanduillet’s cross left him to tap into an empty net but a mistimed connection with his left foot saw the ball bounce into the arms of the grateful Dundee goalkeeper Jack Hamilton.
“I think it was harder to miss. I don’t really know what happened. I haven't watched it back and I don’t plan to. You just move on but next time I’ll make sure I put my laces through it so it ends in a goal, that’s for sure,” he laughed, speaking exclusively to the Evening News.
“When it’s not going your way and you miss a gilt-edged chance like that, you don’t let it affect you. The game continues and you zone it out to look ahead to the next chance. I felt I was playing well and I knew there would be more chances.
“You take the stick that’s going to come from team-mates in the changing room after it, but then you move on. You have to stay level-headed all the time, believe in your own ability and it will come good in the end.
“Thankfully we won the game so it didn't matter too much. It might have been different if that wasn’t the case.”
The winner came minutes later as Mackay-Steven eliminated four opponents with one swerving delivery in behind the Dundee defence to Gnanduillet. Hamilton stopped the Frenchman’s first effort but the rebound ricocheted off the Hearts player and looped over the goalkeeper to make it 2-0.
Playing at the tip of a diamond midfield formation, the Scotland internationalist caused enough problems against Dundee to suggest he could continue there when Ayr United visit Tynecastle on Saturday.
“I really enjoyed playing there and getting the assist for the second goal was great. I feel comfortable playing on the left, the right or the middle,” he said. “Hearts have so many good attacking players, you get the ball into your feet and that allows me to turn and dribble.
“I try to find little spaces and contribute to the game. Every game is different depending who we are up against and how they might set up, but we can play in different structures. We work hard at it on the training ground and we have the players to do it.
“It was a really tough game against Ayr down there a few weeks ago and the conditions weren’t great that night. We will need to be at the top of our game. Playing at home, we need to come out firing and look to impose ourselves on the game early, create chances and take them.
“We have created things in the last few weeks but maybe not taken them to kill things off early. After last week, winning is a habit and we want to stay in that habit.”
Fitness continues to improve and with it his performance levels are on an upward trajectory. Mackay-Steven explained why he was always going to take time to adjust after 18 months in America with New York City FC.
“It’s great being back in Scotland at a massive club like Hearts. The first few weeks were about getting my rhythm having not played for a while. I had to isolate in my apartment before I could get going but I’m thankful the gaffer gave me minutes early on.
“A few games in, you start to get that match fitness and sharpness. The team is doing well, although there is more to come from all of us. I always knew it would take a bit of time to get used to new team-mates, their movements and how the gaffer wants us to play.
“I still feel there’s a lot more to come. I’m certainly not at my peak and I know I can contribute more. That comes with being match-fit, which I am now, so mentally and physically I feel in a great place.
“We’ve got a strong squad and we feel we can have a really successful season. There are big league games to come and we’ve got the Scottish Cup as well.”
Hearts could go 17 points clear at the top of the Championship if results work in their favour over the weekend. “People might think we should be winning every game comfortably but it doesn’t work like that,” stressed Mackay-Steven.
“We can be in the ascendancy then get hit on the counter-attack. After that, teams sit back and restrict your space. Each game is tough.
“We know we need to create chances and take them to make the games a little bit easier going forward. It is a difficult league and you have to respect every team because they all pose unique challenges.”