STRIKERS at Hearts continue enduring a frustrating period as only two of the club’s domestic goals this season belong to forwards.
Chances were passed up during Saturday’s goalless draw with Ross County at Tynecastle, but midfielder Arnaud Djoum wants others to take responsibility for scoring.
The Cameroonian believes midfielders and defenders should be contributing more. Hearts haven’t scored in their last two matches and, of their 13 goals so far this season, defenders, midfielders and wingers have claimed 11. The frustration at the weekend came from the fact they carved out enough opportunities to take three points instead of one.
It must be said that the Ross County goalkeeper, Scott Fox, was a major cause of the hosts’ exasperation. He enjoyed a fine afternoon by denying Tony Watt twice and Conor Sammon twice. The visiting midfield and defence produced a gritty performance, particularly after Ian McShane was dismissed six minutes from the end for two cautions.
Nonetheless, the notion within the home dressing-room was that this was an opportunity missed. “We have had the same problem in the last two games – creating a lot of chances and not scoring,” observed Djoum. “We need to score more goals and everything will be fine. It’s frustrating. We should have six points from the last two games. We just need to keep working hard. It’s just putting the ball in the net. You can’t win games if you don’t score.
“The team have confidence in our strikers but it’s not only strikers who should score. Everybody can score goals – midfielders and defenders. Small details can make a big difference. We have a lot of quality in this team. We are a strong team, we control games, we create chances but we didn’t win. It’s not like we played badly so it’s frustrating.”
Robbie Neilson, the head coach, was similarly irked. He introduced attack-minded substitutes Jamie Walker and Bjorn Johnsen in the second half in the hope of breaking County’s resistance. The changes were to no avail.
“We had the same issue as last week again,” he said. “We created a lot of chances but we’re just not getting that final touch. The positive is that we’re creating these chances to begin with.
“We’re dominating large periods of games, hardly giving up any chances and I know that bodes well for the future. When it clicks, we’ll get the points and the results that we deserve. We can’t score a load of goals every week but I’m happy that we’re getting into the right positions. We need to work hard and continue what we’re doing. It’s not as if the boys don’t know how to finish. They score in training.
“Last season, when we lost Osman Sow, we struggled creatively a lot and we’ve worked hard over the summer to rectify that. We were trying to scrape 1-0 wins whenever we could, but we have the quality to do more now.”
Perry Kitchen wore the Hearts captain’s armband for the first time after taking it from Alim Ozturk last week. The Turkish defender had been out of the side for the last month but did make an appearance after 30 minutes’ play. John Souttar was forced off with a dead leg and Ozturk emerged from the bench to partner Igor Rossi in central defence.
“Alim was great. He showed his professionalism,” said Neilson. “He’s had a difficult week, as we all know. He’s trained really well, his head has been right, and I know I can rely on him to put in a performance if I need him to.”
At the back and in the centre of the pitch, Hearts were solid. They had enough flair to open Ross County up, just not the ruthlessness to finish.
Fox’s performance in goal drew praise from his manager, Jim McIntyre. “Foxy is very reliable and a good keeper. You can see why he was away with the Scotland squad in the summer. He saved the one v one with Sammon after staying tall so we’re really pleased with him.”
McIntyre also conceded that referee Alan Muir and his officials made the correct call in the first half when Andrew Davies’ header bounced down onto the Hearts goal line via the underside of the crossbar. “It’s a good call from the linesman. It was a glorious chance for us, Davies did everything right, it’s a firm header but it kept rising [until it struck the bar]. It was a good decision.
“I thought there was better quality to our play in the first half but we didn’t have the final cutting edge. We were done by Hearts on the counter attack as they’re very good at breaking. We warned the players about that and you need to handle it. We have a lot of discipline defensively but we can’t keep drawing games [this was County’s third successive draw]. The boys deserve credit but three points take you up the table.”
Seeing the game out with ten men further tested the Highlanders’ resolve. McShane was dismissed on 84 minutes for two cautions inside three minutes, one for fouling Walker and another for a lunge on the Hearts left-back Faycal Rherras. McIntyre was philosophical.
“In the modern game, you need to stay on your feet. As soon as you go to ground it’s either yellow or red. I’d rather speak about the bravery of the players. We had to handle the atmosphere because we saw it as a chance to get three points and go above Hearts. That tells you where Ross County have come from.”