Bjorn Johnsen explained how veteran midfielder Don Cowie is playing a vital role in trying to galvanise a beleaguered Hearts dressing-room.
The Tynecastle side are clearly struggling for confidence after a run of six defeats in seven matches which has left their European hopes hanging by a thread and their support in a state of disillusionment. Johnsen revealed that Cowie’s leadership on and off the pitch has been vital in helping a new-look side try to ride out the storm.
Asked which players are most likely to be found rousing the dressing-room, Johnsen replied emphatically: “Don Cowie – he’s the man. He’ll bring everyone together and he continues to do it every game.
“If you could hear on the pitch, you’d hear his voice most of the time. He’s never quiet. He has the aspiration to help us to get through games. He has gone through hard games in his career and we need that experience. Sometimes we don’t have it and we need it from him.”
When asked if Hearts could do with more players in the mould of former Watford, Cardiff City and Scotland midfielder Cowie, Johnsen said: “Maybe. I’m not a manager to know what would fix it, but our confidence is down and I look to him. He is always there for us.”
Johnsen admits there is a fragility about Hearts at the moment which can only be overcome by a sense of “togetherness”. “If one thing goes wrong, we all keep going in our shells and we’re not staying together as a team,” said the striker. “We need to realise we’re not playing well as a team. You notice those things in a game: ‘Oh, why is he playing over there?’. It all comes back to confidence.”
Johnsen is adamant Hearts have a strong squad of players who are currently lacking in belief. Asked if confidence is currently at its lowest point since he arrived last summer, Johnsen said: “Yes, probably. But that can change in one game. If you get a result, the confidence comes back in five minutes. It can change so easily.”
The mid-season change in coaching and playing staff has had a clear effect on Hearts’ campaign. Johnsen believes it is only natural that there would be difficulties when so many new personnel were thrown together without a pre-season to prepare as a group.
“We’re not doing anything majorly differently [to the start of the season],” he said. “The style is a little bit different because of the change in coaching staff, but we enjoy playing that way. It’s not like we’re playing a style that we don’t like. It’s just not correlating into games the way we’d like at the moment. It’s really easy to talk in training and figure out what we should be doing but then you get into the game and it’s a totally different world.
“In training, what we’re trying to do works perfectly but we need to find our feet in games. I’m not looking to the summer, but ideally we need practice games where there’s no pressure to find our feet together. It’ll come over time. This is a normal situation because of all the changes in January. A good friend of mind left [Igor Rossi] but these things happen in football. We’ve brought in new coaches and new players – a lot of things have happened. We’re frustrated that we’re not getting results but it’s still a happy dressing-room – it always has been while I’ve been here. You guys see us around here – there are no negative people here walking around with their heads down. It’s just a frustrating moment.”
Johnsen admits his team are suffering a collective form dip. The striker himself has struggled to generate any momentum since being named the Ladbrokes Premiership’s player of the month for November. “Everybody’s form – mine included – needs to be back up to a higher level,” he said. “A machine doesn’t work without all the pieces going the way they should be. We all need to hold our hands up and say we’re not playing as well as we should be. I’d be the first to say that about myself.”
Johnsen believes Hearts have shown glimpses of their potential in recent months, but knows they now need to produce their best on a consistent basis, starting with today’s home game against Dundee. “The most difficult thing is we’ve been playing in spurts very well,” he said. “The last game against Dundee, we were leading 2-0 but lost 3-2. For parts of the game, we completely controlled it.
“In the Celtic game last week, we played really well and matched them head to head, but we need to do that for 90 minutes and not just 20 minutes or 30. We have to get through a game and say we completely outplayed a team. We’ve done it a couple of times, maybe the Hamilton game when we won 4-0, but people expect that from us. We just need to try and get back to winning ways.”