Krystian Nowak believes he can provide an interim solution to Hearts’ midfield crisis if given the chance by manager Craig Levein. The versatile Pole played for the first time under Levein as a substitute against Rangers on Saturday and is eager to retain the holding midfield berth he occupied.
Injuries to more recognised faces in the middle of the pitch have left Levein dreadfully short of options. Don Cowie, Arnaud Djoum and Prince Buaben are all currently sidelined, hence 16-year-old Harry Cochrane has been thrust into the first team from the relative solemnity of youth academy football.
Nowak has recently recovered from his own injury problems having not played for more than two months due to knee and Achilles injuries. A competent centre-back, he played in midfield many times last season under former Hearts head coach Ian Cathro.
He told the Evening News he is fit, able and willing to deputise there until more established names return. “I can help in midfield. I played some games last season as a defensive midfielder and I felt good,” said the 23-year-old.
“If I play defensive midfield now, it will be fine for me. I like this position and it’s not a problem for me. It’s the gaffer’s decision so I must wait until the next game and we will see what happens.”
Much will depend on Levein’s opinion on Nowak’s capabilities in the engine room. Ross Callachan, who arrived from Raith Rovers on August’s transfer deadline day, has quickly cemented himself as a fans’ favourite with his dynamic style.
Other than young Cochrane and the on-loan Liverpool player Connor Randall, Hearts’ options in that department are severely limited. The question for Levein is whether Nowak is more effective in central defence or central midfield. It’s a debate the player often has with himself.
“I don’t know. That’s a difficult question,” he smiled. “I feel good in the defensive position and in the midfield position. In defensive midfield, it’s better because you have someone behind you. If you make a mistake or you play a bad pass, you have one guy behind you to fix it.
“When you play centre-back, you must play really simple and focused all the time. When you make a mistake in defence, usually it’s a goal. The two positions are different. In defensive midfield, you have more chance to go forward. I like to go forward sometimes so it’s good for me to play there. We will see where the gaffer wants me to play.
“I played in midfield against Rangers and I have played there before when the gaffer was watching [as director of football]. He knows how I play as a defensive midfielder. It’s difficult to speak about it just now because I don’t know what will happen in the next game.”
One thing Nowak is certain about is that he wants to feature more often and play a more prominent role in Hearts’ campaign. He has had to be patient since regaining full fitness. “I was waiting a long time. I had injuries before but I have trained every day for the last month and now I am fit. I was happy to get back on the pitch on Saturday. Of course the result wasn’t good but it was important for me to come back and spend some minutes playing again.
“I had a problem with my knee and then my Achilles, both on the same leg. I could have come back when my knee was okay but then I had the Achilles problem. Now everything is okay so I can play again and I am happy. I want to play more. That’s normal for a football player. Everyone wants to play.”
Nowak has so far attempted to let his professionalism and endeavour do the talking. Levein has steadied Hearts despite recent losses against Hibs and Rangers and the Pole isn’t the type to start demanding answers over game time. “It’s difficult because I’m training hard. I always give 100 per cent in training, every day. I do everything as best I can but it’s the gaffer’s decision so I must respect him,” continued Nowak.
“I respect the decision and wait for my chance. On Saturday, I got some game time so I hope I can get more in the games coming up.
“I didn’t speak with the gaffer. I’ve just been waiting and training hard. I didn’t go to him because it’s difficult to do that after you have been injured. It’s also difficult for the gaffer because we had a change of manager before the season started.
“He knows everything about me. He knows how I played before the injuries so maybe he is waiting for my best form to come.
“ I got some minutes against Rangers so now I’m just looking forward to the next game. After the Kilmarnock game this weekend we will come back to Tynecastle for our home games. That will be amazing.
“This is why I want to play more football because I love playing at Murrayfield and Tynecastle.
“I’m waiting for the first game at Tynecastle with the atmosphere there.”