Ross Callachan explained that there is a general acknowledgement within the Hearts dressing-room that the team have underachieved this season.
After finishing fifth under Ian Cathro last year, the Tynecastle side added several new faces in an effort to ensure they were better equipped for the current campaign. Among those recruited were internationalists like Christophe Berra, Kyle Lafferty, Michael Smith and Steven Naismith, as well as experienced goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin. Despite the perceived improvement in the calibre – and suitability – of players signed since the end of last season, Hearts look likely to finish the current campaign in sixth place, albeit there is a good chance they will end up with more points than the 43 they collected last term.
Callachan, who joined at the end of August from Raith Rovers, expressed disappointment that his side have been unable to make their presence felt in the battle for the European places. “There have been good times and bad times this season,” said the midfielder as he reflected on a campaign which has fizzled out in underwhelming fashion over the past six weeks after a winter of much promise. “Personally, I have enjoyed joining the club and getting started here but I think everyone feels we could have done better this year. With the dressing-room we have, we want more than what we’ve done this season.
“Top six is okay but we think we could have done better, so we just have to take it and make sure we improve next year. The gaffer will have a whole pre-season to get us fit and playing the way he wants us to play. I think that will be important because he didn’t get that this season and I’m sure it will help us. We have good players, and the younger guys have come through this season and they will only improve for the experience they have picked up. They have all made good contributions this season.”
While his team are intent on hitting greater heights next season, Callachan is also striving for improvement in his own game. The 24-year-old made a bright start to his Hearts career when he scored in two of his first three games last September, but he admits his form since then has been inconsistent. A costly mistake in the Scottish Cup defeat by Motherwell last month, when he opted to let a poorly-taken corner kick drift past him for Curtis Main to score the opener, led to Callachan being criticised by supporters and dropped for the following two games. After being restored to the starting line-up for Sunday’s draw with Dundee, he offered a timely reminder of his capabilities with a brilliantly-taken early goal.
“Personally, I think I have done okay,” said Callachan, reflecting on his first seven months as a Premiership player. “I hit the ground running at first but then I had a wee dip and have had to come back from that. I was a bit inconsistent so I have had to work hard. I want to improve, get better and learn. The difference at this level is that it’s more relentless, the games are a higher tempo and the teams are fitter. You find the players in the Premiership are stronger, they have more pace and power. It’s definitely harder to play against these teams.”
Callachan’s four-goal haul – the best of his career to date – makes him Hearts’ fourth-highest scorer this season. “I have scored four goals this season, which is decent, and I would like to get a few more before the end,” he said. “My previous best tally was three so if I could get a couple more I’d be happy with that.”
Another player still finding his way after joining Hearts this season is Danny Amankwaa. The winger, who joined from FC Copenhagen in January, made his third start for the Tynecastle side on Sunday as he strives to find form and fitness following an injury-disrupted period in his career. “I’m hoping for a big season next season,” said Amankwaa. “I know I’m good enough so hopefully I can show it. I’ve started two games in a row now so I have had a couple of good workouts. I want to play every game now – I feel my body is ready for that now.”
Amankwaa is yet to find top gear, but is eager to start making his presence felt in Hearts’ attack in the coming weeks and months. “I didn’t start that well against Dundee, but I felt I did okay in the second half,” he said. “I am looking forward to the Aberdeen game now. I need a goal so hopefully it will come on Saturday. My last one was a long time ago, which isn’t good enough. Now that I’ve started playing regularly again I need to get goals and assists.”
Amankwaa is striving to establish an on-field bond with his new team-mates. “I like playing off Kyle Lafferty because he’s good at holding the ball and playing one-two with,” he explained. “I like players who I can link up with. I feel like I can do that with Steven Naismith and also Don Cowie – those two are really good to play with. They understand how I play.”
Amankwaa was disappointed that Hearts didn’t build on their superbly-constructed early opener against Dundee. “It was a very, very good goal and I thought we would beat them by two or three goals after that, but things change quickly in football,” he said. “We stopped playing after that, but I think Dundee also pressed us better than they did at the beginning.”