Hearts forward Euan Henderson in record-breaking scoring form as Alloa loan nears its end date
The softly-spoken Hearts forward is breaking records on loan at Alloa Athletic under manager Barry Ferguson. His tally of 12 goals in 15 games since arriving in September is helping keep the relegation wolves away from the Wasps’ Indodrill Stadium byke.
It is clear he enjoys the responsibility of playing No 9 after operating out wide for years. Being the traditional centre-forward shouldering most of the scoring burden seems to suit him. Kyle Lafferty or Liam Boyce he is not, but Henderson’s pace would trouble any defence and his finishing ability is improving through weekly shifts up front.
A scroll through Youtube footage shows him scampering in behind some worried-looking defenders to produce a variety of strikes while clad in yellow and black.
There are close-range prods, shots on the turn, plus a couple of calm conversions after dribbling runs. The screeching of Alloa’s in-house commentators indicates the affection for Hendo in Clackmannanshire.
If polite, privately-educated schoolboys perhaps wouldn’t normally be expected to thrive in the cut-throat world of Scottish Championship football, this 21-year-old former Stewart’s Melville pupil is very much an exception.
He scored his first ten goals quicker than any Alloa player in the last quarter of a century. By reaching double figures in his first 12 appearances, Henderson beat Stevie May [ten in 13 during 2011/12], Willie Irvine [ten in 14 during 1997/98] and Greig Spence [ten in 15 during 2016/17].
The irony of his prolific form won’t be lost on management back at his parent club. Hearts are in the market for a goalscorer to help Boyce during the second half of the season, although recalling Henderson to fill that void seems unlikely.
The loan agreement with Alloa expires on January 16 and his Hearts contract finishes in the summer. Riccarton coaches appear to be pleased with the player’s prolific form.
“What they say is that they think I’m doing well. Sometimes Alloa are struggling but I’m scoring goals even if the team is losing,” says Henderson. “I’m pretty sure they are happy with me but they haven’t talked to me about what's going to happen in the future.”
He can’t do any more than continue scoring at such a healthy ratio. Whether that leads to an extended stay with Alloa or another loan elsewhere will be decided by Hearts officials in the next ten days.
“They [Hearts] gave me targets and objectives and I feel I’ve done well. We just need to see what they say,” adds Henderson. “They’ve told me they are happy with me. They wanted me to play every week in a Championship team so I said ‘okay’. I think it’s worked out well.
“I’d be happy to stay at Alloa. It’s a great club and a great bunch of guys. We need to see what happens, if another challenge pops up that maybe catches my eye. I’ll look at my options.”
He still trains with Hearts and travels to Clackmannanshire for evening sessions twice a week. Keeping him close to the first-team squad at Riccarton was regarded a priority by coaching staff, hence the decision to loan him to a part-time club.
The 50-minute car journeys on cold winter nights would be a challenge for anyone with even moderate enthusiasm. The prospect of more goals keeps Henderson going, plus the need to satisfy the ever-demanding Ferguson.
The manager’s decision to employ the youngster at centre-forward is fair reaping dividends. “He always wants more from everyone,” explains Henderson. “He’s never happy with me until I score one or two goals. That keeps driving me on and it keeps me in the game, concentrating for 90 minutes. It’s good for me to hear him keep saying that.”
He now has a scoring rate the envy of many far more experienced strikers. There is no bravado or complacency, though. Hendo keeps his feet on the ground unless asked to outsprint an opposing centre-half.
He’s done the loan thing before, of course. A year with Montrose in his teens yielded five goals from 33 appearances in several different positions. This one maybe fits more naturally for the player and both clubs.
“The objective was to get games and goals,” says Henderson. “I was just sitting on the bench at Hearts so I needed to go out and play to get some confidence. It’s worked out well so far. Alloa are struggling a bit just now but I’ve enjoyed scoring goals.
“I wanted to score more so I’m going to do that through the middle. I wasn’t too comfortable playing up front by myself before but I’ve learned more about the game by doing that here. I’ve improved how I use my body and stuff like that has helped me.
“I feel more comfortable in front of goal now. If there is pressure to score in games, I feel more relaxed. I still think I’m good on the wing but if you want me to score goals then I’ll score goals up front.
“This is the first time I’ve actually played No 9 every week since I was 16. I think I’ve got better at it. I’m more comfortable in front of goal and the more you do it, the better you get. Every chance I get now, I feel like I’m going to score.”
Practice makes perfect for Euan Henderson, a Wasp currently flying high and carrying quite a sting.