Uche Ikpeazu reveals why he is hurting as he learns right-wing role for Hearts
English striker wants to do his best to help the Tynecastle team improve
Uche Ikpeazu’s right-wing cameo was a new experience for a player who is very much a centre-forward to trade. He is hardly about to become the next Suso Santana but is open to learning a new role, especially if it helps keep him in the Hearts team.
The experiment conducted by interim manager Austin MacPhee on Saturday helped record a much-needed 5-2 victory for the beleaguered Edinburgh club against St Mirren. Ikpeazu was restored to the startling line-up having been dropped by MacPhee the previous weekend against Rangers.
He did not expect to return wide on the right of a front three, but won headers and occasionally ran at opposing left-back Calum Waters to prove his point to the interim manager. He also played an integral part in Hearts’ second goal with a prodded shot which ricocheted off Sean McLoughlin en route to the net.
The giant Englishman may find himself deployed out wide again, depending on how long Austin MacPhee’s interim spell as Hearts manager lasts. “I’ve never played there before, so you learn every day,” Ikpeazu told the Evening News. “It’s different and I think I need to understand that. That side of the game, understanding the role you have to play, I have to do a job for the team and I feel I’ve done that.
“I want to play every game and I was a bit disappointed I didn’t start against Rangers. I’ve got to respect the manager’s decision. That’s what he thought. I’m happy to build on the win against St Mirren. He gave me the opportunity to play so I’m grateful.”
Pressure at Hearts does not evaporate with one victory. They are ninth in the league and badly need to build momentum to climb the table.
“There is pressure, man, but it’s just about how to channel your pressure,” said Ikpeazu. “For me, it’s been frustrating. I take my football seriously and I’m not happy with how we’ve started the season. It affects me when the team is not doing well. I think a lot of the lads have been hurting too. We went out and gave it our best shot against St Mirren. We all worked hard for each other, so that’s the most important thing.
“It was massive. We had to win and we did, so that was pleasing. Do you know what? I’m disappointed with the two goals we conceded, to be honest. Realistically, those two goals were gifted to St Mirren. I was happy with the win but we need to tighten up because we have a great group of individuals in our team. We should be winning these games and that was a massive victory at the weekend.
“Hopefully we can build on it. I said this after the Hibs game and we didn’t really do it, so hopefully we can do it this time.”
Ikpeazu will take time to rest and recover during international fortnight before league duties resume with a trip to Kilmarnock a week on Saturday. “My hamstring was a bit tight and I had to come off on Saturday, so I need time to recuperate and get myself right during the break.”
He will also take time to reflect. The man who brought him to Hearts from Cambridge United in summer 2018, Craig Levein, was sacked as manager just under two weeks ago due to the team’s atrocious form.
Ikpeazu explained why he will forever remain grateful for the opportunity to move to Tynecastle Park. “Craig is a great guy and a great manager and he was very unfortunate with injuries. I’m not just saying that because I like him,” explained the striker.
“Sometimes football is a results business and things happen. I feel Craig did the best he could with the circumstances and tools he had. I thank him so much. At the end of the day, these are the players he brought in so he deserves a bit of credit. Like I said, we have talented players so I hope we can kick on now.
“I do owe him a thank you. He took me from League Two in England and brought me to this massive club. I believe in myself to do well and whatever I go on to achieve is down to him. He gave me that exposure. I owe a lot to him.”