Osman Sow plays his 25th and final match of a demanding season on Saturday against Rangers.
He is now at the stage where he can declare his move to Scotland a success. Twelve goals and a regular starting berth with Hearts have restored the gangly Swede’s confidence, the obvious low point being a three-month mid-season injury absence.
Sow arrived in Edinburgh last July shorn of confidence and unsure how reliable his hulking 6ft 4in frame would be. Scottish football is, to put it politely, unforgiving. To be blunt, it too often resembles carnage on killing fields. He was coming off the back of a year of inactivity at Crystal Palace due to persistent injuries and registration issues. The question was: Would his body hold up?
Thankfully for Hearts, it largely did. A torn thigh muscle in October sidelined him for much of the winter but he recovered to rejoin what was by then a relentless juggernaut en route to the Championship title. He has stood up to the challenge and played a major part in a rampant league triumph, which secures Hearts a place back in the Scottish Premiership.
Not that the striker is getting over-excited. He knows he is still gradually building his body up to the point where it can manage 40-plus games in a season if required. At 25, time is on his side. He has another 12 months left on the two-year Hearts contract he signed last summer and his thoughts are already drifting towards next season.
Ultimately, he wants to play more, score more and achieve more and is eager to experience Scotland’s top flight. “I’m feeling good personally. There is one game left this season but I still want to improve. I’ve already started thinking about next season,” he said in an exclusive interview with the Evening News.
“I don’t really know the difference between the teams in the Premiership and the Championship in Scotland because I have only played in the Championship so far. I really want to stay fit for the whole season and play the best football I can.
“Next year, I’m just hoping to play some more games because I know I need to build it up. I’m feeling good so I want to keep going. For the team, we want to finish as high as possible and have as good a season as this one.
“The main thing for us this year was to win the league. Sometimes you need to put your personal targets to the side and think about the team targets. Of course it’s nice to score, everybody wants to score and I am the same, but this is a successful season because we have won the title; that is the biggest achievement.”
The personal target Sow speaks of is the top goalscorer award in the Championship. He has 11 league goals to his name at the moment. Barring an unlikely seven-goal blitz against Rangers, he will concede defeat in the race to be the league’s top marksman. The Hibs forward Jason Cummings is favourite to take the title as he sits on 17, two ahead of Queen of the South’s Derek Lyle.
Sow admits he did considering yanking the ball out of Brad McKay’s arms in stoppage time at Central Park on Saturday in an attempt to increase his goals tally. Hearts were awarded a penalty in the dying seconds at Cowdenbeath but Sow didn’t have the heart to steal Brad McKay’s thunder.
“I was thinking about it but it was his second last game, or maybe his last game, for Hearts so I decided to leave it,” smiled the forward. McKay dispatched the penalty past goalkeeper Robbie Thomson with some aplomb to give his team a 2-1 victory.
“It was a scrappy game but sometimes it’s like that in football. You just need to win the battle and we got there in the last minute,” admitted Sow. “You always try to keep believing but you do start to doubt a little bit when it gets to that stage [1-1 in stoppage-time]. Thankfully, Brad stepped up and he scored a great penalty.”
It was another game in which Hearts’ performance did not match the heights of earlier in the season. Momentum has slowed since the league title and automatic promotion were confirmed at the end of March, with defeats to Rangers and Hibs in amongst wins over Queen of the South, Alloa, Raith Rovers and Cowdenbeath.
Sow believes the reaction from his colleagues has been entirely human. “I think it’s normal. We are playing against other teams and the points matter for them. We need to find our own motivation and sometimes that hasn’t been enough recently. We are still winning, though, and that’s the main thing,” he said.
No-one at Tynecastle should need reminding of what is required when Rangers arrive at lunchtime on Saturday. The Glasgow club will need a result of some sort to secure second place in the table ahead of Hibs, and thus avoid an extra round of play-off matches.
Moreover, Hearts will receive the Championship trophy at full-time and their fans want to party. “You get motivation for this one by yourself. I’m looking forward to it,” said Sow.
“You know there will be a good atmosphere at Tynecastle. Hopefully we perform well and it is a good football game. We want a win and we are working hard for it. It’s not going to be the same party if we lose, so we need to go out there and perform and try to get the points.”