Playing for your future is a high-pressure situation enjoyed by no-one in football.
Scott Robinson is determined to go through it with dignity and pride. He would love to stay at Hearts, but acknowledges that his career will likely continue elsewhere after January and is therefore eager to impress ahead of the transfer window.
The midfielder, nicknamed Pum, started his first game since September on Saturday against Alloa. He performed well in the 2-0 win despite being short of match practice and any scouts in attendance would have taken note of his undoubted qualities.
Unfortunately, he will probably be relegated to the substitutes’ bench for this evening’s rearranged league match against Cowdenbeath. Robinson is fourth or fifth choice for Hearts’ central midfield berths and, with the influential Morgaro Gomis returning from suspension, is expected to drop out.
Robinson knows the score. He was told by head coach Robbie Neilson in August that he could leave Tynecastle for free if he found a new club and little has changed in the interim. The player is a massive Hearts fan, but needs games for the benefit of his career. His contract expires next summer, but he will probably depart before then.
In the meantime, he wants to play a part in maintaining Hearts’ title challenge. Cowdenbeath tonight precedes a trip to Livingston on Saturday before the Edinburgh derby with Hibs on January 3. The next few weeks are as big for Robinson as they are for his club, who will move 12 points clear at the top of the league with victory in Fife.
“I think I do have a lot to offer,” he told the Evening News. “It’s up to whoever comes to a match and sees me play whether they think I’ll fit into their team or if I’m what they’re looking for. I don’t want to talk about moving on because that’s unprofessional and I’m a Hearts player so I’d need to talk about it nearer the time. I’m solely focused on Hearts just now.
“It’s no different to any other game. If I’m playing, I won’t go out to try and over-impress. I’ll just play my normal game. If people like that, then they like it. I’ll just give my all in every game for Hearts. If I am asked to play in these games coming up, I’ll give my absolute best.
“Robbie has always been honest with me. He said he knows I’m ready to play. Any time he needs me I’m there and I think he trusts me in that sense. Of course, it’s hard on a matchday when you aren’t playing. I’ve just got to try not to let anything bother me.
“I believe in always looking on the positive side and keeping belief in myself. I know I can do a job if I’m asked to play, wherever that may be. I would love to stay and be involved in games. There have been games where I’ve been left out completely, which is hard to take, but whenever I am involved it’s brilliant. There’s a real buzz about the place just now and I think the club is going places.”
The upward trajectory Neilson has taken Hearts on since his appointment in May has delighted players and fans alike. Could Robinson stay and participate in helping the club back into the Premiership?
“That’s not my choice. I’ve just got to focus on playing for Hearts just now,” he said. “If it comes and they turn round and say, ‘look, you can look at other options again,’ then we’ll look at that. Just now I haven’t heard too much. I’m just focusing on staying in the team and doing well when I’m asked to play.
“I’ll do everything I can to stay because this is the club I want to be at. If that’s not the case then I’ll need to move on. I was a bit shocked to be in the team on Saturday, but I’ll take it. It had been a while since I started a game, but it’s always great to play. If I can stay in the side it would be great, but that’s not my choice.”
Any exit would be purely for footballing reasons as Robinson looks to kick-start his career. He is still just 22, but has managed more than 100 first-team appearances since first breaking into the Hearts team aged 16. Kilmarnock were interested before the summer transfer window closed and Falkirk made a late bid for his signature.
“My agent tells me there are options, but I just leave all that stuff to him,” said the midfielder. “I just concentrate on the football. I’m totally focused on Hearts and if I’m asked to play I’ll go out there and do the job I’m asked to.
“I love being here, but if I get told I’m down the pecking order and I’m not going to play then obviously that’s not great. I just want to get back to playing football every week and enjoying it. I enjoyed it on Saturday.
“When you see fans outside the ground, they speak to you and ask how things are. They’re really supportive and that’s great. I think they know my situation. I want to stay here but, if it comes and I have to move, that’s not my choice. It’s the club’s choice, not mine.”
He would at least be leaving as a better all-round footballer due to the influx of talented midfielders at Tynecastle this year. “Gomis and Buaben are really good players, as are Miguel [Pallardo] and Jason Holt. We’ve got really good competition there. It’s just unfortunate for myself that I was suspended for the first two games this season and the team has been on a great run. It’s hard to get back in when we have really top midfielders in there.
“We are really close as a team. We’re all good mates and I think you can see that. If we can build on this lead then hopefully we can make the gap even bigger at the top of the league.”
Whilst others may baulk at the thought of Central Park on a freezing cold Tuesday night in December, Robinson would dearly love to play tonight. “It’s a tight park and you don’t know what the conditions are like, whether it’s a heavy pitch or whatever,” he said. “We’ve just got to go and adapt to the conditions. I’m sure we’ll be ready. If you want to win this league, you’ve got to be able to go to places like that and get a result.
“If we get a result tonight, it will be massive.”