A STRIKER scores, not once but twice, and no goals are conceded. What has someone done with Hearts? And who are these disciplined imposters in their place? No more 3-3 draws with late equalisers scrambled home by full-backs: This was Robbie Neilson’s team with a welcomely different complexion.
“It gets our goal average up, strikers are scoring now, we aren’t conceding goals. Crisis over,” smiled the head coach at full-time on Saturday.
The 3-0 win over Motherwell contained many different sidenotes. Firstly, Bjorn Johnsen is clearly the most potent striker on Hearts’ payroll right now. Secondly, Arnaud Djoum is devastatingly effective when played as a central attacking midfielder. Thirdly, Robbie Muirhead is improving steadily and enjoyed his finest display in maroon wide on the left.
Also, this Hearts defence can indeed keep a clean sheet. Plus 18-year-old Rory Currie looks a promising talent being honed in the youth team. He made his senior debut as a late substitute.
Johnsen opened the scoring in the first half from Djoum’s incisive through ball. The giant American forward then headed home Muirhead’s corner five minutes after the interval. Djoum claimed another assist when Jamie Walker slotted in Hearts’ third goal in a comprehensive victory. It banished a miserable record of no wins in four games, during which ten goals were lost by a worryingly porous back line.
“It was massive that we didn’t concede,” said centre-back John Souttar. “I’m delighted for Jack Hamilton and the rest of us because it was a big game. In the last few weeks we’ve conceded three goals and we’ve worked in training to stop it.
“We’ve been speaking amongst ourselves as well, evaluating ourselves. A team like Hearts shouldn’t be conceding three goals anywhere so it was good to keep a clean sheet. We would’ve been gutted if had it finished 3-1. It wouldn’t have felt like a win.”
Johnsen told the Evening News just three days ago that he is more a provider than a finisher. Nonetheless, he now has four goals in five starts since joining Hearts. He will again lead the attack on Wednesday night against Rangers.
“Bjorn is a handful,” continued Souttar. “I wouldn’t want to play against him with the qualities he’s got. He’s a big boy, he’s got an eye for goal, he’s a runner, he works hard and he’s still young.
“It’s massive for him to score twice. He’s started a few games on the bounce now. You’ve seen his composure for the first goal to take it round the keeper. Hopefully for him and the team he can go on a wee run now and score a few goals.
“It’s a big one on Wednesday. Rangers won at the weekend and we’re all fighting for second so, under the lights at Tynecastle, it would be brilliant to get the win. We were watching Partick against Rangers before our game but we watch every early kick-off.
“Rangers are a good team so we’ll look at them. It was very important to beat Motherwell because we’ve stuttered a wee bit. We showed what we’re capable of. It’s frustrating [throwing points away] but it’s done now. There will be points in the season when every team is frustrated with their results.
“We’re a confident bunch and we believe in ourselves. We keep it in the dressing-room but we believe we can do well. Rangers have good players but so do we.”
One of those is Callum Paterson, who sustained a sickening eye injury in a first-half clash with Motherwell’s Ben Heneghan. Heneghan received stitches in the technical area before returning to the field. Paterson went off for seconds before coming back on and was then substituted as his swollen eye began closing. Hearts are confident he will be available on Wednesday.
“He’ll be fine, there will be no problem,” said Neilson. “We got the eye drained a bit on Saturday and he came in again for some treatment yesterday. That’ll be him ready to go. There won’t be any issues at all. He probably could’ve played on against Motherwell but it was kind of a no-brainer when you’ve got Liam Smith behind him ready to come on.
“There was no point taking a risk with Callum when we’ve got a big game on Wednesday. We got Liam on and he was steady for us. He did his job and played really well. I would expect Callum to be ready for Wednesday, though.”
Motherwell seemed overwhelmed for much of Saturday’s match, especially in midfield. The hosts spurned several first-half chances and Craig Samson in the away goal deserved credit for saves from Walker and the returning Igor Rossi.
That said, the visitors did threaten on the break, particularly after introducing substitute Lionel Ainsworth in the second half. Hearts defender Faycal Rherras cleared two balls off his own goal line and Souttar also produced a last gasp-clearance to deny Ainsworth. Bizarrely, in spite of the Tynecastle side’s control, it could have been another 3-3 draw.
“We were overpowered. I thought Hearts were excellent,” admitted visiting manager Mark McGhee. “They worked really hard and passed the ball better than us. They took their chances so we were beaten by a better team.
“Losing the second goal [so soon after half-time] was the most disappointing thing for me. To lose a goal from a corner was disappointing. Ben said he was blocked but he shouldn’t be blocked. He’s a bit strong boy. We struggled to handle the boy [Johnsen] all afternoon.
“Hearts defended determinedly and cleared balls off the line. They covered their goalkeeper so credit to them. The chances off the line are neither here nor there. We were well beaten. We had too many random passes, flicking the ball round the corner because of the pressure they put us under. The quality of Hearts’ play was much higher than ours.”