Isma Goncalves much fitter under Craig Levein’s regime at Hearts

Hearts striker Esmael Goncalves was bitterly disappointed not to get on the scoresheet against Aberdeen last weekend. Picture: SNS
Hearts striker Esmael Goncalves was bitterly disappointed not to get on the scoresheet against Aberdeen last weekend. Picture: SNS
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Hearts striker Esmael Goncalves has explained how the players need to earn their Wednesday day off by complying with new manager Craig Levein’s demands on the training pitch.

Upon being installed as Ian Cathro’s successor at the tail end of last month, Levein’s first priority was to make the team harder to beat.

Adhering to that principle, Hearts made an encouraging start in last weekend’s goalless draw with Aberdeen, a game they would have won had it not been for an inspired goalkeeping display by Joe Lewis.

Following concerns over the squad’s fitness under Cathro, the former Scotland manager’s back-to-basics approach has led to the squad being put through physically-punishing training sessions.

Any reluctance on the part of the players to meet the standards set by Levein will lead to the squad working a six-day week.

“Things are a little bit different under Craig Levein,” said Goncalves. “There has been a little bit of change, more work, it’s more physical.

“It’s good, all the players are liking it – I’m definitely going home more tired.

“When Craig came in he said we’re going to work on a Monday and Tuesday, off on Wednesday and back Thursday and Friday.

“But to win the free day on Wednesday we must deserve it – and he means it.

“Monday and Tuesday are runs and small games, so on Wednesday we have a good rest. So far we’ve had our Wednesdays off.

“We needed it. In football now you must be fit to win games – quality is not enough, you must work hard.

“Cathro also had the mentality of winning games. He was a good tactician but we didn’t have the players for this style.

“Scotland is not for this style. Here it’s tough and what Craig says is right – it doesn’t matter how you win, as long as you win. He also has good tactics to play, as well as put the fight in the team.”

Goncalves and his Hearts team-mates were bitterly disappointed on Saturday after goalkeeper Lewis came to the Dons’ rescue at Murrayfield with a strong of fine saves.

Being his own fiercest critic, former St Mirren forward Goncalves, who has scored three times this season, sat down to watch a rerun of the game as soon as he got home last weekend.

Goncalves, who wants to help deliver three points at Hamilton today, added: “Afterwards I spoke to Craig and Austin MacPhee and they told me I did everything I could but the goalkeeper just had one of those days.

“On Saturday I went home and felt a bit sad and disappointed not to have scored because I tried hard.

“I also watched the game again on BBC Alba. I learn, maybe I should shoot on the right next time, for example, and I will score.

“I see new things and I believe I will learn.

“I’m my own biggest critic. All the time after games or even if I’ve trained poorly I always look inside and tell myself I have not given enough.

“I always look at myself and know when I’m wrong and when I’ve performed poorly.

“I look first of all on what I can do better and then I can speak with the other players.”

Levein has already expressed his concerns of playing in front of 25,000 on a bowling-green pitch at Murrayfield one week, then going to Hamilton’s 
modest 5,500 capacity stadium and a synthetic surface the next.

But Goncalves has vowed that the vastly different surroundings will not hamper him.

He added: “It is difficult on one hand, but not the other. In our situation you need points and that’s the motivation for every game, even in the smaller stadia.

“I don’t think about that when I go on the pitch, I just want to play well and score.

“Of course I’m even more motivated this week because we lost two points against Aberdeen. We should have won – this is a game we 
must win.”