Howling from the stands at Juwon Oshaniwa has become a regular theme at Hearts matches. The player himself hears the disparaging remarks and is acutely aware of people questioning him just six months into his career in Scotland.
Giving up isn’t an option for the Nigerian. Speaking exclusively to the Evening News, he pledged to reclaim a starting place at Tynecastle, prove himself to supporters and silence the doubters. Until then, he will simply block out the carping.
Oshaniwa is likely to start tonight’s league match with Ross County in Dingwall and sees the game as a prime opportunity to start proving himself all over again. He was dropped from the team four games ago after some unconvincing displays at left-back. He played 40 minutes as a substitute in Sunday’s Scottish Cup tie with city rivals Hibs and is now eager to return to the starting line-up.
Alim Ozturk is ruled out of tonight’s match through injury, whilst defensive colleagues Igor Rossi and Blazej Augustyn are suspended. A back four of Jordan McGhee, Callum Paterson, new signing John Souttar and Oshaniwa is one of few options for head coach Robbie Neilson.
Oshaniwa has experience of the World Cup and African Nations Cup with his country, but admitted he has taken time to acclimatise in Scotland. Getting pelters for every mistake hasn’t helped, but he is nonetheless determined to atone.
“It pains you sometimes when people who don’t know the game take up the criticism,” said the 25-year-old. “I had a great couple of games for Hearts when I started on a high note. The talent is in me, I know I’m a good player and I don’t need anybody to tell me this. I’m a professional player and I know the reason I am here. I have to just block my ear to some negative stuff and pick up the positives that can help me in my career.
“Honestly speaking, the team is not doing badly so far and we are on course. We keep pushing and pressing until we are able to see how far we can go at the end of the season. For me, this is new. I am in a new environment, but that is no excuse. I will keep playing, keep doing what I know how to do and see if I achieve my target at the end.
“It’s difficult when you see yourself out of the team because every player wants to play. Only 11 players can start a particular game so some guys are going to be on the bench and some will not even be stripped. The technical crew have big challenges to set up the team. When a decision has been taken, you need to take it and keep working till your chance comes. Then you need to hold it.
“I’m always prepared and I’m always set. When you desire something positive, you just keep pressing towards it. With any achievement you’ve got in life, there is always room for improvement and going higher. I’m not ready to talk, I just keep moving.
“Irrespective of what happens or what anybody is going to say, I’m here to make everybody proud. I want to justify the reason I was brought to this squad. I want to thank the fans, the technical crew, and everybody who is keeping me moving.
“Sometimes, when I sit and think how I started in the first couple of games, I just smile. It has been a great positive moment for me. We secured many points and when something happens we just have to take it in good faith and keep working towards our goal, individually and collectively.”
Oshaniwa now believes he is ready to show his true potential in maroon. He has adjusted to the Scottish way of life, culture, weather, food and football. He feels he can thrive between now and the end of the season. He doesn’t feel bitter towards those criticising him but stressed that he will never give up.
“I’m aware now, I’m getting used to the atmosphere and the conditions of the team. These are just challenges that you face, you just keep playing. There are a lot of ups and down in football. As a professional player, you must keep your head straight and not allow any distractions.
“I understand the fans because they are always out there to give us maximum support. They keep pushing their team. It is a morale booster for me when I see them in numbers and I hear their voices. I’m happy we have a big support behind us because it motivates me and it keeps me moving. I want to see if I can match their demands.
“We always want to play, we want to play, entertain the fans and make them happy. We want to get three points but, when you are a defender, you don’t forget it. Sometimes you just need to take a decision – just get the ball out of danger and keep moving. When it doesn’t go your way, you have to give it another try and keep going. Don’t let it destruct you, keep focused.
“I have come too far to give up. I’m here and I told you I’ve got my goal ahead of myself. I’ve come too far to stop so I will keep doing what I know best. That is it.”
He will be part of a rather makeshift Hearts team tonight, with other injury doubts over winger Sam Nicholson and midfielders Arnaud Djoum and Miguel Pallardo. Under-20 players Liam Smith, Robbie Buchanan, Daniel Baur and Russell McLean are in contention for places on the bench depending on who is declared fit.
“I’m still not 100 per cent sure if Souttar will play yet,” said Neilson. “There’s a good chance he’ll be involved. He’s an experienced Premiership player. Even though he’s young, he’s played a lot of games for Dundee United. The three guys we brought in are all ready to go and play.
“I thought Dauda did well for the first 45-50 minutes on Sunday but he hasn’t played a full first-team game for a long time. He has had a lot of 25 or 30-minute spells coming on as a sub. We saw that in his fitness levels.
“He won’t take long to get up to a level and he will be involved tonight, involved on Saturday and that will set him up well for the derby replay.
“It’s about bringing players in, giving them game time and then getting prepared for the next game. It’s a difficult period for us in that there isn’t a lot of time in between the games. Ross County is a good ground and I like being involved in games there. It’s similar to Tynecastle, not as big, but the intensity of it is similar.”