Tuesday’s Edinburgh derby defeat remains raw for Cole Stockton, the Hearts striker who is still adjusting to Scottish football.
After Hibs on the fixture list it’s Rangers at Murrayfield on Saturday. This time last year, the Liverpudlian was on loan at Morecambe preparing for matches against Colchester United and Exeter City.
The contrast is stark. Stockton admits he is still finding his feet in Scotland after leaving National League side Tranmere Rovers for a crack at the Ladbrokes Premiership. A chance to equalise late on in the 1-0 defeat at Easter Road is fresh in the mind, but he is determined not to be distracted by disappointment. He knows his first goal in maroon will come with increasing game time.
Stockton is philosophical when asked to recall the moment the ball dropped to him unmarked at the back post during the closing stages of his Capital derby debut. Hit the target and Hearts would likely have restored parity, but the forward isn’t unduly fretting about a missed opportunity.
“It was a bit of a mad one. It felt like the ball was in the air forever so I just had to keep my eye on the ball. It could’ve ended up in row Z,” said the 23-year-old.
“I should have hit the target but the ball has gone right across the box so anyone could have got on the end of it.
“It’s one of them, a half chance. You can’t let it affect you because you aren’t going to get another chance like that to score. It’s gone. You have to be confident you’ll get more. I’ll get more chances. I’m not worrying about that.
“I’ve just got to be ready for it when the chance comes. I’m still getting used to how the team is playing. On Saturday when I came on [against St Johnstone], we were 1-0 up and just trying to see the game out. On Tuesday night, we were pushing when I came on. It’s a bit of a balance.
“I’m getting used to the lads and who does what. For example, when the full-backs are putting crosses in, you need to know when they’re cutting the ball back and when to make a forward run.
“It’s different for me because last season, at both Tranmere and on loan at Morecambe, I was the only striker. They played one up top and then you’d have runners off you. That’s my game – with my back to goal. Here, it’s different. It’s nice to add stuff to your game. If someone sticks a ball in behind the defence, I know it’s not one of my strengths, but I’ll run for it. I’ll run all day.”
Appetite clearly isn’t a problem. Losing derbies is. Stockton has been in Edinburgh merely four months but now fully appreciates the magnitude of the occasion when Hearts meet Hibs. The Easter Road side stretched their unbeaten run derby run to eight games with Simon Murray’s winner on Tuesday.
“I’m getting on and getting more minutes for myself, which is great, but it was such a massive game the other night,” said Stockton. “We didn’t create enough chances and that’s disappointing. The Hibs goal early doors killed us but I think we should be creating more chances.
“This gives us something to work on, definitely. I’m confident we can do that and create more scoring chances. Hibs didn’t create too much after their goal.
“Losing has got to hurt. It’s got to hurt everyone because it will just stiffen our backs and get us ready for Saturday. We just have to go again. This will hurt for a few days but the game is gone. We can dwell on it or we can just take it into Saturday and try to get the win at Murrayfield against Rangers.”
Stockton is young and hungry to seize his moment at Tynecastle but finds himself competing with three other forwards for what is sometimes only one striking berth.
Kyle Lafferty, the experienced Northern Ireland striker, was Hearts’ marquee summer signing and a regular started. Esmael Goncalves, the Portuguese, is his regular foil. That leaves Stockton vying with young Rory Currie for a supplementary role.
“I’d like to be playing more minutes,” he admitted. “We’ve been winning games so it’s not like I’m saying I should be starting. I’m made up to be getting chances in the team. I’m getting gradually more minutes each week. I’ve got to keep working hard. Before I came up here, I knew it would be hard and I prepared myself for that. I’m looking to get more starts now.”
The player has discussed his predicament with manager Craig Levein and his assistant, Austin MacPhee.
“I’ve had a few chats with the gaffer, and Austin as well. They just said: ‘Keep doing what you’re doing in training and keep the intensity levels the same, then you will get your chance.’ I’ve tried to do that every day.
“I expected to have competition. You’ve got to want that because it’s what makes you a better player. It pushes the other lads on. At the end of the day, we’re a team and we need goals. If we compete with each other, it can only benefit the team.”