Hearts’ Clevid Dikamona heeding mother’s words of wisdom during run-in
It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Unfortunately for Hearts, this well-used phrase is serving to paint their campaign in a grim light.
Their sensational early-season form, when they romped clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership, is currently counting for nothing as their league campaign looks like fizzling out in underwhelming fashion.
With supporters increasingly disillusioned as they face up to the prospect of a third mid-table finish in succession, Clevid Dikamona is well aware of the importance of ensuring a positive finale to a campaign which was shaping up so promisingly last autumn. With four league games to play, Hearts still have an outside chance of climbing back above city rivals Hibs before facing Celtic in what now looks like being a season-defining Scottish Cup final at Hampden on May 25.
Dikamona, influenced by his mother’s words of wisdom, knows that ending the season with a flourish can go a long way to banishing the negativity that has engulfed the club during a run of just seven wins - and 13 defeats - from their last 24 league games.
“We have lost some important players which has given us some difficulties to stay near the top of the league,” said Dikamona, whose own involvement in recent months has been restricted by injury.
“Teams like Celtic and Aberdeen have not had the kind of injuries we have so it is easier for them to be more regular and consistent. But I hope that we can do something good in the rest of the games this season because, as my mum always says to me, everyone remembers what happens at the end, not what happens at the beginning or the middle. Now it is very important that we finish the season in a good way.”
Winning at Easter Road on Sunday – and moving level on points with fifth-place Hibs with three games remaining – would certainly go some way to getting angry supporters back onside after many left the stadium long before the end of Saturday’s demoralising 3-1 home defeat by Rangers. Dikamona produced one of his best displays for Hearts as they ground out a rousing 1-0 victory at the home of their city rivals four months ago, and he knows they could desperately do with pulling out a similar result this weekend.
“That was one of my best games for Hearts,” the defender said. “It was important for me, for the club and for the fans. I know the fans will be disappointed if we lose on Sunday so I want to go there and win. I was disappointed when they beat us a few weeks ago because I was not on the pitch to help my team. If we can go there and get a result it can help our confidence for the rest of the games and also the final. It will also be important for the supporters because we need them behind us. We saw after the third goal on Saturday that some of them left the stadium, and that is difficult for a player to see. If we want them to be behind us, we need to do the job on the pitch. Sunday is the type of game the fans like, so we need to use this game to pull the supporters back in with us. It’s an important game that we need to win.”
After being a regular starter when he first arrived early in the campaign, Dikamona has found his involvement limited since December. The return from injury of first-choice centre-backs John Souttar and Christophe Berra, allied to his own problems with knee and quad injuries, have restricted him to just one start and five substitute appearances since the winter break.
“My knee has been painful for more than three months but after that my quad has been a little bit tight,” he explained. “I am usually fine to play with pain but this has been more painful than normal. I can manage the pain sometimes but I decided a few weeks ago I needed to stop to take some time to get fully fit again. That is why I have not been in the squad for the last few weeks. But now I am feeling better and I hope I can be involved more in the next few games.”
After not being deemed fit enough to make the squad for the recent Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle and the Scottish Cup semi-final victory over Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Dikamona got a late call to take a seat on the substitute’s bench against Rangers on Saturday after Sean Clare was too ill to play and Craig Wighton was promoted to the starting line-up. The Congolese defender was sent on in place of Michael Smith at right-back for the closing seven minutes in what represented his first outing since featuring as a sub in the 1-0 win at Dundee six weeks previously. “We are professionals – we need to be ready for all situations,” said the 28-year-old.
“When I woke up in the morning, I was ready to play so when I found out I wasn’t in the squad I was disappointed for a few minutes. But then after that, I was fully focused on supporting the team so it was no problem for me to come on the bench at the last minute when Sean was sick.
“It was difficult to go on when we were losing 3-1, but I want to thank the gaffer because he gave me the chance to go on for the last ten minutes when as I had just come back from injury. Every player wants to be in the squad every week so the last few weeks have been difficult for me because of my injury and trying to manage the pain.”
Dikamona’s personal objective is clear. “Everybody wants to be involved in the final,” he said, with reference to the eagerly-awaited showdown with Celtic next month.
“It will be my first final and my first opportunity to win a trophy. I will do everything to be involved in that game and if I deserve to be involved, I will be, but if I’m not, it will be because someone else has done better than me in training. If I give my best, I am also pushing the other players to be at their best, so that is also a good thing. Even if I am not in the team, I always support my team-mates. If I am on the bench, I want to come on and be part of a good team because that also reflects well on me.
“I just want to continue improving and be involved even more in the team.”