Nobody can accuse Esmael Goncalves of not learning.
The fallout from having his locks pulled at Kilmarnock saw the Hearts striker wisely sporting a neat hair bun at Ibrox on Saturday. He is clearly determined not to encourage another episode of Ponytailgate.
Goncalves was only cleared to face Rangers 48 hours before kick-off when the Scottish Football Association rescinded the red card he received at Rugby Park. He had been dismissed after the Kilmarnock defender Kirk Broadfoot yanked his ponytail when the players collided, and Goncalves threw his arm out. However, an SFA fast track appeals panel decided the forward was not in the wrong.
That said, Goncalves is now rather less trusting of Scottish defenders, not to mention more protective of his hair. Hence the decision to tuck it all away at the weekend in a tidy bun any female would be proud of.
Speaking for the first time about the incident with Broadfoot, Goncalves explained his delight that the red card was overturned. He spent much of last week agonising over whether his appeal would be rejected or upheld until the decision was announced from Hampden on Thursday lunchtime. The 26-year-old then led Hearts’ forward line in Glasgow as the Edinburgh club took a welcome point by dint of a goalless draw with Rangers.
“I was really, really happy because I didn’t mean to do anything when I got the red card,” he told the Evening News in an exclusive interview. “I was really glad that the red card was cancelled so I could play against Rangers.
“Yes, there was no ponytail so maybe people won’t try to get me by the hair again,” he laughed. “It never happened to me before. It was strange.
“Some players told me that this defender is a little bit stupid, you know? He does stupid things in the games so they were warning me. I was keeping calm. When he pulled my hair I was thinking: ‘What the F*** is this?’
“He pulled the hair so strong and I was going down so I used my arm. Then I got a red card. I was anxious because I was only thinking about whether I could play against Rangers. I want to play every game, I want to be available for every match.”
Three goals in his last four games confirm Goncalves’ importance to Hearts. He is beginning to develop an understanding with fellow striker Kyle Lafferty, although their burgeoning partnership was temporarily split up at the weekend as Lafferty lined up wide on the left.
It was all part of a gameplan which ensured Hearts made their point in more ways than one. “It was an important point. Everybody was thinking that we are weak and we would go to Ibrox and lose. We showed the people we are still strong. We are going to fight until the last minute,” said Goncalves.
“It was a difficult game. These games against the big teams are always hard so we must work and wait for some opportunities to score. Football is like this. When you play against good teams, you must defend more and concentrate. Then, when you have one opportunity, you must try to score.”
Like most connected with Tynecastle – where the search for a new head coach continues whilst Jon Daly is in interim charge – Goncalves would have taken a point if offered such a result before kick-off.
“I would have taken it but we said in the warm-up before the game that we had come here to win. We didn’t go to Ibrox to draw but a point is a good result. We didn’t lose so I think we can be happy.”
Four points from three away fixtures at the start of the season is indeed a reasonable return. The Hearts players seem to be enjoying confounding critics who predicted the worst due to their run of away games whilst Tynecastle’s new main stand is completed. “It’s a good start because everybody said that, by the third game, we would be on zero points. We are not, we have four points now,” said Goncalves.
“It’s a really good start and the team are happy with this. We are working hard and that is the most important thing.”
The player feels he has still to reach his peak since arriving in Edinburgh in January. His goalscoring exploits so far this term have endeared him to supporters but he is adamant there is more to come.
“I’m okay, I’m happy enough, but I could be better. You can always be better,” he insisted. “It’s not bad so far, I think. It’s just a question of focus when I’m in the penalty box, making better choices.”
Like many of his team-mates, Goncalves would have no problem continuing to work with Daly if the Hearts board decide to promote their Under-20 coach permanently this week.
“Jon is a nice guy who speaks with all the players. He was a player himself so he knows how our heads work. He can speak with us more like a friend.
“It’s almost like he is still playing. I would be happy if he got the job permanently. I know him already and I like him, so why not?