Stephen Humphrys Hearts exclusive: I'm not intimidated by Fiorentina, Istanbul, Rangers or anyone else

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Divine Ponytails and Batigol tales don't intimidate Stephen Humphrys. Fiorentina's rich heritage is known across the globe, but one valiant lad from Oldham refuses to be overawed. He is probably an ideal candidate for Hearts to propel into Thursday's Europa Conference League tie in Italy.

The Stadio Artemio Franchi once idolised the flowing locks of Roberto Baggio and Gabriel Batistuta, not forgetting Manuel Rui Costa and a host of other footballing luminaries. Today's squad aren't quite of that vintage, witness fans' jeers after Sunday's 4-0 defeat by Lazio as La Viola slid to 13th in Serie A.

Hearts arrive with their own worries after just three wins in their previous 12 games. Humphrys' displays are one of few recent on-field highlights as supporters warm to his honest and direct style of play.

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He didn't hesitate to have a go against Rangers with that combination of pace and physicality. Then came his first goal in maroon at Kilmarnock on Sunday. The on-loan Wigan Athletic player is eager to continue a good vein of form, and won't allow Fiorentina or their reputation to unsettle him.

"A lot of that is just confidence," he said, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. "Against Rangers, I wasn't intimidated by the fact it was them even though they are a massive Champions League club. At the end of the day everyone is human, everyone's got limits.

"If I can push myself to my limit on the pitch, I can go up against other people and see how I do. I just wasn't fazed by the occasion and hopefully people see that. I want to take that into every match.

"A few years ago, Leicester City won the Premier League just by having confidence and believing in themselves. There's no reason why we can't beat anyone on any day. We need that mindset.

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"I'm not intimidated by Fiorentina, Istanbul or players who have played in the Premier League, World Cup and all sorts. If you play well and they have a bad day, who knows? You just take that into every game."

Stephen Humphrys is enjoying his loan spell at Hearts.Stephen Humphrys is enjoying his loan spell at Hearts.
Stephen Humphrys is enjoying his loan spell at Hearts.

It is an attitude Hearts will hope rubs off on other players. Humphrys, to his credit, does not overindulge in emotion when it comes to football. He is aware the loan move to Edinburgh works in his favour when he is running about in the Conference League every Thursday. Just a few weeks ago he was on the periphery of Wigan's squad in the second tier of English football.

So, while others would perhaps step out of the tunnel on Thursday with the Gazzetta Football Italia theme tune playing inside their head, Humphrys will adopt the cold-blooded approach. He knows he is on a privileged platform live on television across Europe.

"I'll be grateful for the opportunity if I'm picked, even if I come on as a sub," he said. "I will do my best to take the chance and show people what I can do. When you get the chance to play football in stadiums like that, rather than get emotional about it, you just go and do your best.

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"It's a good way to showcase what you can do. More importantly, I want to show the manager here what I can do - stay in the team, score goals and help the team as much as I can."

A confident touch and calm finish at Kilmarnock does him no harm whatsoever. The rain-covered synthetic pitch worked in Humphrys' favour as he collected Robert Snodgrass' long forward ball before dribbling past Kilmarnock goalkeeper Zach Hemming to convert from an acute angle. It was his first goal since March 19, when he struck in Wigan's 4-1 win over Morecambe.

"You have to use those conditions to your advantage," he explained. "I didn't lash at the finish, I just used the pace of the astroturf to guide it in. I was conscious that, if I hit it too hard I might slice it. When you haven't scored for a while, you sometimes have those thoughts in your head. I definitely did.

"Now I've scored, the monkey is off the back as the saying goes. Hopefully more will come. I've tried to push my way into the team. There are a lot of talented players. I just want to show the manager that I'm here and I wanted to be selected for every match. Hopefully I've put myself forward for the next game by scoring."

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Difficult recent results haven't prevented him settling in Gorgie. "The first day at Livi, I didn't even know the lads' names. I knew Jorge Grant because he'd been in England. I hadn't trained but within two or three days I'm in the group chat and I felt settled. It's a big thing for confidence when you feel that the group have taken to you, then you can express yourself on the pitch. I'm really enjoying it."

And although a newcomer, he is fully conscious that Hearts fans want improvement from their team. "It's been a tough period. Halks [Craig Halkett] is injured, people are playing out of position, Smudge [Michael Smith] got injured last week," said Humphrys.

"We have been unlucky, we've had red cards. Cammy [Devlin] got one and I think he's probably been our best player this season. That's a tough loss. Lewis [Neilson] was sent off last week so I think we have had a bit of bad luck.

"At the end of the day, we've got to take accountability for how we've been playing and put it right. Every game is a chance to put things right. Once we win two or three on the bounce, I'm sure the fans will be on our side.

"Look at how they have travelled with us for the last few games. Look at how many of them were in Riga. They deserve the performances they are demanding and we will do our best to deliver them."

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