Zander Clark reveals his Hearts desire ahead of a critical European showdown with Aberdeen

Goalkeeper knows the magnitude of the task ahead and why European ties are something special.
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Zander Clark’s first involvement with Hearts came in back-to-back European ties last September. He signed a three-year contract and was quickly named on the bench against Istanbul Basaksehir at Tynecastle and, a week later, RFS in Riga. He remained an unused substitute in all of the club’s Europa Conference League fixtures, ample opportunity to savour the atmosphere.

The goalkeeper took part in St Johnstone’s European games against Galatasaray and LASK Linz last season, too, backing up his experience of continental competition. No-one need remind him of the significance of today’s game in Gorgie. Hearts host Aberdeen realistically needing to win to maintain hope of finishing third in the Premiership, which is likely to guarantee European group stage football next season.

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“It's a big game in terms of what we want to achieve as a club,” said Clark, now playing regularly at Tynecastle with Craig Gordon injured. “Every game is a massive game when you're at Hearts. There are demands from within and outwith. In terms of where we want to be come the end of the season, it's a big game and one where we need to be right at it.

“We go into every game with the aim of winning it so there is no different approach. We are at home and we need to make sure we use that to our advantage, keep the crowd entertained and as loud as we can to push us over the line.

“We just need to focus on ourselves. We know what we need to do to get to where we want to be. Saturday is down to us. We have trained well this week and we have a plan for how we want to go about the game. When the referee blows the whistle, it's up to the XI on the park to put into play what we practiced through the week.

“When I joined the club I think one of the first games was a European trip and it was a great. I experienced it as St Johnstone as well and these games and competitions are the ones you want to be involved in as players.

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“It is great for the club and the players and their families, and the supporters as well. You can only judge by what you see when you are on the pitch and they are in the stands, but it looks like a good away day. It is definitely something we want more of and it is down to us to try to bring that back to Tynecastle.”

Hearts goalkeeper Zander Clark is ready to face Aberdeen.Hearts goalkeeper Zander Clark is ready to face Aberdeen.
Hearts goalkeeper Zander Clark is ready to face Aberdeen.

Hearts sat third with a seven-point lead in mid-February but a dramatic drop in results saw them slip to fourth. Beating Aberdeen would reduce the current five-point deficit between the teams to two with two league games left.

Football is a funny old game and things can change quickly,” said Clark. “It's down to us to make sure we are right at it to give ourselves the best chance to have that glimmer of hope that things can change. We need to make sure we are right up for it come kick-off on Saturday.”

After controversial red cards in their previous two games against Celtic and St Mirren, Hearts will hope this game is settled by football and not refereeing. Alex Cochrane returns from suspension today following his dismissal against Celtic, although he will serve the second of a two-game ban on Wednesday when Hearts travel to Rangers. Peter Haring’s red card in Paisley was reduced to a yellow in midweek following the Edinburgh club’s appeal. Lawrence Shankland’s late penalty earned the 10 men a 2-2 draw.

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“Obviously at the time you get frustrated but it is football and these things happen,” opined Clark, keen not to get caught up in any controversy. “Last week was frustrating because we had got a foothold in the game and we were on the up. The sending off kills us in terms of momentum, but there was character and spirit that the boys showed to keep pushing and take it all the way to the final whistle.

“Lawrence is probably the guy you would want to step up and take the penalty in that situation and he managed to win us the point, which at this stage of the season could be a vital point for us. It is frustrating at the time but once it is done, as players, we just try to regroup and get back to doing what you know you can.”

Asked if he would rather VAR did not influence this weekend’s game, Clark replied: “That would be the best scenario, but it’s still a new system and it’s taking everyone time to get used to it and how it works. I think everyone could see that Saturday’s wasn’t a red at the time and when it goes to VAR and they agree with it, then it’s disappointing. Everyone will think they are due one but you don’t want it to be at that stage.

“If you’ve had them go against you then you might start thinking you are due one but you just want the right outcome regardless who it’s against. As players, you want the right decisions to be made. Before VAR was introduced, you had to accept that everyone is human and mistakes were made but VAR is there for the purpose of rectifying things if a mistake is made. If it is used to its full potential, then it could be a very good addition to the game.”