Krystian Nowak is one of few positives to emerge from Hearts’ wretched second half of the season.
Consistent, assured, versatile and hard-working, the Polish defender is a bright spot on an otherwise grey Gorgie landscape at the moment.
Results have been below standard with just six wins from 25 matches in all competitions since Rangers were dispatched 2-0 at Tynecastle on November 30. That form has seen head coach Ian Cathro, who took charge merely days after that win, feel the wrath of some of the club’s more demanding supporters.
Nowak, though, has gone about his business quietly and efficiently in the background. His display against Rangers at Ibrox on Saturday is an example of the security he offers even though odds were stacked against his team following Prince Buaben’s 25th-minute red card.
His performances overall have been strong, whether in defence or midfield, and he looks a useful asset for next season. Hearts will revamp their squad and there must surely be a place for the 23-year-old in the new-look group.
He and Cathro have already had discussions about next season and will talk again over the coming weeks. Nowak’s contract runs for another 12 months and he is eager to remain in situ. “I spoke with the gaffer and we spoke about next season,” said the Pole, speaking exclusively to the Evening News.
“I have a contract for another year and we will see what happens. We will have time after the holidays to sit and speak about the new season, maybe another one. The time for this is after the season.
“We have two games left and we must focus on these games. Of course we will speak in the future and of course I want to stay here. When I came to Hearts I said it was a nice place for me, a good club for my future. I came to play and to progress.
“I am happy because I started to play last December and now I am involved in every game. I want to stay and get better.”
The final two matches of Hearts’ league campaign are tomorrow night against St Johnstone in Perth and then Sunday in Glasgow against Celtic. They left Ibrox frustrated at not securing the minimum of a point at the weekend in spite of their numerical disadvantage.
An improvement in performance didn’t yield anything and the defeat ultimately ended any lingering hope that the Edinburgh club might reach the qualifying rounds of the Europa League. They will finish outside the Ladbrokes Premiership’s top four, hence the need to regroup and strengthen over the close season.
Before then, players and coaching staff are determined to prise some points before heading off on holiday. “Yes, there is plenty motivation,” said Nowak.
“You could see we wanted to win against Rangers, you could see that from everyone on the pitch. We must play the last two games like we did on Saturday, and of course we must score more goals.
“There are a lot of positives. We started well in the game but we lost the first goal, then Rangers had two or three chances. It’s difficult when you get a red card so early but I think the team lifted the performance and we did what we could with ten men.
“We scored a goal to make it 1-1 but we had a lot of frustration. We wanted to play forward and score a second goal. It was difficult because we had one man less. I think we played a good game and we must keep this going forward.
“It’s not easy to be all positive because we don’t have the points. We wanted to play in the Europa League and Saturday was a chance for us if we could win. Now, we must look for some positives ahead of the next two matches. We play on Wednesday and, if we play the same as we did at Ibrox, I think we will win.”
That would be a welcome achievement given seven years have lapsed since Hearts’ last league victory at McDiarmid Park. It is quite an astonishing record which grates with many at Tynecastle. So long ago was their last win in Perth that another Pole played in defence that Saturday afternoon in November 2010 – Adrian Mrowiec.
Nowak is from a new generation of Polish players tasked with raising the standard of football in their country. The national team is now recognised worldwide as strong, organised and dangerous thanks to the likes of Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowksi, Napoli’s Arkadiusz Milik and Monaco’s Kamil Glik.
Below them, Poland’s Under-21 side are about to name their squad for the European Under-21 Championship, which they will host between June 16 and June 30 this year. Nowak is waiting to hear if he will be called up. Rules confirm he is eligible because he was under 21 when the qualification campaign began.
“I am waiting for some contact. It’s a difficult situation and lots of players are waiting on contact,” he smiled. “Everyone wants to play because the Under-21 Euros is big. Only 22 players can get a space.
“I am playing games for Hearts and I want to show I am in good form and I can play in big tournaments. When we are playing games against Rangers and Celtic, it’s good because these are big games. I can show myself in these matches.”