Ozturk striving for perfection at Hearts

Alim Ozturk enjoyed his first derby experience as a player. Pic: Rob Casey/SNS
Alim Ozturk enjoyed his first derby experience as a player. Pic: Rob Casey/SNS
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“It’s better to win 5-0 than 5-1,” says Alim Ozturk.

While Hearts fans – mindful of their famous 2012 Scottish Cup final triumph – may disagree, the Turkish defender’s lingering anger at losing a goal against Dumbarton last weekend gives an indication of the mindset underpinning the Tynecastle side’s unbeaten start to their Championship title pursuit. On Sunday, Hibs will host a rampant Hearts side still striving for perfection.

“We don’t just want to stay undefeated or win games, we want to keep clean sheets,” said Ozturk. “Last weekend we won 5-1 against Dumbarton, but the goal we lost was so bull**** – that made me angry. If that doesn’t happen, it would have been better for us. The clean sheet gives a good feeling for the defence and also for the goalkeeper. It took the shine off the win for me, definitely.”

Despite that second-half blemish against the Sons, 
Ozturk is in good fettle as he prepares for his first trip to Easter Road.

Still only 21, he is one of only two ever-presents – Morgaro Gomis is the other – in a Hearts side who have won nine of their ten league games so far. Two years ago, he helped SC Cambuur to four consecutive victories in his first senior starts for the Dutch side. While that was enjoyable enough, this scintillating start to life in Edinburgh has been a different ball game entirely for the former 1461 
Trabzon defender.

“This is the best period of my career,” he said. “When I was 19 years old and started playing in the first XI in Holland, we also won a lot, but this is different because I started at the start of the season and have played 
all ten games, which is more difficult. Winning every week gives you a good feeling.

“My last year in Turkey was not very good – we would win one week, then lose two weeks, it was certainly not like this.”

Ozturk, likely to be reunited with his trusty defensive partner Danny Wilson on Sunday after the captain missed the Dumbarton game through injury, can’t wait to experience his first derby at Easter Road. He knows Hearts will have to repel a Hibs side fired-up to end their unbeaten start, but is confident they can emerge from the lion’s den with their nine-point lead over Rangers intact and their 14-point advantage over their city rivals extended.

“It is my first game at Easter Road so I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot about it. I played against Hibs at Tynecastle and it was a great atmosphere. I hope there will be a similar atmosphere at Easter Road and that we win again. I love the big atmospheres – we have 3000 fans of Hearts at every away game, which is very good for us.

“It’s a big game for us 
and also for them. They will be desperate to beat us. There are 14 points between us and they will want to come close to us. We are ready for a hard match, but I have confidence in the team that we can get the three points. We are nine points clear [at the top of the leagie] and I hope that we win on Sunday and maintain that.”

Ozturk’s first experience of the Edinburgh derby came two-and-a-half years ago when former Cambuur team-mate and Tynecastle favourite Mark de Vries brought him and a group of other players over to Edinburgh for a weekend in March 2012. They attended Hearts’ 2-0 win over Hibs in Gorgie – Craig Beattie and Suso Santana were the scorers – and Ozturk felt sampling the atmosphere that day stood him in good stead when he made his Edinburgh derby debut in a 2-1 victory for the Jambos in August.

“Mark told us about the game and how the fans don’t like each other,” he recalls. “Going to that game a few years ago helped me know what to expect when I played in the first derby. Now I have played in one, it is very nice.”

Ozturk’s only previous experience of “derbies” had come in matches between teams from separate towns or cities. “I played in derbies in Turkey last season but they are not like this – they were a little bit smaller. I played for 1461 Trabzon against Samsunspor – the cities are close together. It was the same with Orduspor, a team close to Trabzon, but the Hearts-Hibs game is the biggest I’ve played in. It’s the first one between two teams from the same city.”

Ozturk has already settled well into life in Edinburgh, where he stays with team-mate Soufian El Hassnaoui. He has been humbled by the warmth of everyone he has encountered both at the club and around the city.

“Everybody’s done so much for me and I feel at home,” he said. “The players, the coaches, everybody at the club, the people in the city, they are very friendly. I like it here. When you win every weeks it helps a lot. We are in a good position.”

Ozturk is enjoying the chance to play every week and feels that he will only get better once he irons out a few rough edges to his game.

“I think I have played good,” he said. “Sometimes I make mistakes, but that happens in football. I am just 21 so I need to play more games. After I play more games, I hope I won’t make those mistakes. We have played ten league games and had five clean sheets, which is good for us.”