Uche Ikpeazu reacts to fan criticism and insists he will score goals for Hearts
Criticism of his performances this season hasn’t escaped the Hearts striker Uche Ikpeazu. While confident of adding goals to his game over the coming weeks, he must do so against the backdrop of some public carping.
Not only is Ikpeazu robust enough to hold off several Premiership defenders at once, he also carries the mental strength to ignore detractors and focus on finding the net.
Tomorrow would be an ideal time to knock one in. Newly-promoted Ross County visit as Tynecastle Park hosts its first league fixture of season 2019/20. Ikpeazu has played in all five of Hearts’ competitive fixtures hitherto without scoring and knows people will form opinions on him as a result.
He is convinced those opinions will soon change. “In my first few games I wasn’t up to full fitness. I wasn’t sharp, I didn’t think I was at my best,” said the Englishman, speaking exclusively to the Evening News.
“Now I feel my performances are back and it’s just goals to come. Generally, for the team, I think people need to be patient. Things are going to gel but you have to be patient. You can see what we’re doing and how we are trying to move forward.
“Of course, people are entitled to their own opinion. I get my fair share of criticism as well. That’s just what you have to expect in football but we are working hard behind the scenes and we know the best is coming.
“I understand it’s part of the game. When I’m doing well, people are going to be happy. When I’m not, people are going to criticise. That’s just footballing life in general and I accept it. I know I’m getting back to my best and I know what I can do. When I’m at my best, I know I can help the team so I’m just focusing on that at the moment.
“I want to get off the mark as a striker and score goals because goals breed confidence. If I can set up a goal or score a goal, I want to help the team. Hopefully we can start with a win at home tomorrow. Everyone is in positive spirits because there is loads to look forward to at the moment.”
The giant forward quickly became a cult hero after arriving in Edinburgh last summer and went on to score eight times despite a foot operation. He judges himself on goals but explained that there are other, equally important, aspects to his play.
“I missed a chunk of the season last year and still got eight goals. I played 26 games so it wasn’t a bad return,” said Ikpeazu. “I have scored goals in my career and I know I can score goals. People have their opinions but I judge myself on goals as well. I want to be an all-round centre-forward – someone who can score goals, set up goals and bring other people into play.
“That’s what I intend to do so I do judge myself on goals. As a centre-forward, you want to score. I do bring other things in my game. It’s still early in the season but obviously I want to get off the mark. I believe I can. I’m just trying to work hard for the team and I know the rest will come together with patience. I trust the process.”
Hearts invested a fair portion of their wage budget in strengthening their attack over the summer, with Conor Washington signing a two-year contract and Steven Naismith agreeing to four years.
Competing with two established internationalists – not forgetting Steven MacLean, Aidan Keena and Craig Wighton – is a challenge Ikpeazu relishes.
“With Naismith back and Conor signed, these are players who came from a higher level so there is lots of competition. We are all here to help each other and help the team do well,” he said.
Naismith and Washington acted as a tonic on the Hearts team at Pittodrie last weekend, helping to transform a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead before Aberdeen struck twice to secure a 3-2 win. Their second-half introduction offered hope to both fans and colleagues.
“It’s good to have Steven Naismith back and Conor Washington also did well when he came on,” noted Ikpeazu. “The substitutes had an impact and really helped us going forward. There were loads of positives for us in an attacking sense and we took a lot of confidence from that against a good Aberdeen team. We were happy with the second-half performance even though we lost the game.”
Hearts must build on it this week against a well-organised Ross County side carrying no little attacking panache themselves in the form of strikers Billy McKay and Ross Stewart.
“Ross County is going to be a tough test,” said Ikpeazu. “They have come up from the Championship and are on a good run of form, but we have our big players back and I feel we are playing well. If we can just play how we play, concentrate and do what we need to do, I don’t see why we can’t get off to a winning start at home in front of our fans.”