Olly Lee savours derby-winning goal against Hibs and speaks on Hearts exit and love for club
Olly Lee is the only player in the past five years to experience the thrill of scoring in a Hearts victory at Easter Road.
Nine months on and that wonder strike which gave Craig Levein’s team a 1-0 win over Hibs can effectively be deemed a parting gift - for now, at least - to the Tynecastle club’s support. Things were never quite the same again for Lee at Hearts after that zenith moment, and, after falling out of favour, he now finds himself on loan at English League One side Gillingham.
“I’m pleased that the Hearts fans have something to remember me fondly by,” the midfielder told the Evening News. “It’s a moment I’ll remember for a long time - there’s no feeling like it. I wish I could have done a slightly better celebration though - I was just so excited that the ball had hit the net. It’s a moment I’ll look back on with wonderful memories - it was brilliant.”
At this time last year, Lee was a key member of a Hearts side who sat five points clear at the top of the Premiership. The Englishman formed a strong partnership with Peter Haring in central midfield and became an instant fans’ favourite. As the season wore on, Hearts were hit by injuries, Lee was moved into different positions and then on to the subs’ bench, and it all ended in wholly underwhelming fashion for both player and team.
“I loved my time in Edinburgh and I loved playing for Hearts,” he said. “I absolutely loved representing the club.
“At this time last year it was brilliant and I was really enjoying my football. It’s well documented that we had a few injuries and it didn’t pan out how we all thought it would after the first ten games and that was really unfortunate because we had high hopes. It’s massively frustrating that things dropped off for us the way it did. I know people don’t want to harp on about it too much but we did lose big players at big times of the season. There’s not many teams who could cope with the injuries we had. It hit us hard. It’s very frustrating and it feels like a case of unfinished business.”
Lee feels he would have been able to continue his impressive start if he had played more games in a two-man central midfield with Haring. Injury to the Austrian, allied to the return of Arnaud Djoum and the addition of others, meant the blend changed in the engine room, and Lee was never truly able to influence things the way he would have liked in the second half of the season.
“It would have been nice if me and Pete could have played in midfield together a bit more often because at the start of the season, that’s the way we played,” he said. “It worked really well and we were enjoying it.
“It was an accumulation of a lot things that meant that stopped happening and I got played out of position in a lot of games. I was on the left and right wing, and it was clear to see that wasn’t really my position. The team struggled and it was a tough second half to the season. It wasn’t how we thought we’d end it but it’s in the past now.”
Lee made 41 appearances last season - more than any other Hearts player - but he started only nine of the closing 19 games for which he was available before being denied a place in the Scottish Cup final squad by an injury sustained away to Celtic on the final day of the league campaign. The 28-year-old, who scored a double against Bolton Wanderers on his Gillingham debut last month and has started all four league games since his move to Priestfield, insists he hasn’t given up on his career at Hearts, where he has a contract until 2021.
“It was unfortunate for it to turn out how it did,” he said. “But football’s a game of opinions and I think me and the manager probably had different opinions on the style of play. That’s part of the game - it happens.
“I was happy in Edinburgh, I was enjoying living there, my family were settled. It wasn’t a case of me wanting to move down south - it was a football decision and I respect the manager’s decision on that. We went our separate ways, shook hands and that was that.
“I can still see a future for myself at Hearts, I don’t see why not. You never say never in football. I loved my time in Edinburgh and I am very proud to represent Hearts as a football club so if I get the chance to play there again, I’ll grasp it with both hands.
“We’ll just wait and see what happens. At the minute I’m just focusing on short-term goals and that’s trying to enjoy my football, scoring goals and making things happen for Gillingham.
“I moved my Mrs and my little man up to Edinburgh. It was a big move for me in the first place to move us all up but it’s not one I regret for a second. I love Edinburgh - it’s one of my favourite cities in the world. Playing at Tynecastle, there’s no better feeling. I really enjoyed my time at Hearts - I can’t speak highly enough about it.
“Hopefully I’ll get up at some point to catch up with the boys and get to see a game because there’s no better place to be on a Saturday than Tynecastle.”