MICHAEL NGOO believes he has become a better player since joining Hearts on loan from Liverpool back in January.
The big Englishman has played regularly for the Jambos since he followed Reds team-mate Danny Wilson up to Edinburgh on the eve of the League Cup semi-final win over Inverness, with the striker’s five goals in maroon helping him become something of a fans’ favourite. Ngoo, 20, will return to Anfield at the end of the season, and he firmly believes he will be heading back down to Merseyside an improved player.
“I go back to Liverpool at the end of the season and start pre-season with them,” he confirmed. “I think being at Hearts has benefitted me. I’ve improved mentally, as well as improving as a player, and the fans have been tremendous with me. I’ll be disappointed to leave, but I’ve learned a lot here. It’s been a great experience. Not many players come out on their first loan and get to play at Hampden in a cup final, so it’s been a tremendous experience.”
Ngoo admits being so far away from his London-based family has been difficult, but it hasn’t stopped him enjoying his time with the Gorgie club. “I’ve been up in Edinburgh alone and when you’ve got your family around you they take your mind off things,” he said. “Sometimes you do feel lonely at night after training, but it’s part of growing up. You just have to get on with it. I meet up with players like Marius [Zaliukas], Arvydas [Novikovas] and Mehdi [Taouil] and we chill, watch TV, go to the pictures.”
Until the talk of possible administration resurfaced this week, Ngoo has generally managed to avoid the off-field problems which have seemed to routinely afflict Hearts in recent years. As he is leaving the club anyway in a few weeks, any potential developments will have little direct effect on him.
Nonetheless, he has built up enough of a bond with Hearts to ensure he is desperate to see them emerge from their ongoing troubles and re-establish themselves as a leading light in the SPL. “A lot of people are talking about the off-field problems and it affects the players, but hopefully everything gets right and the club is back to where it used to be,” he said.
“There have been highs and the lows since I’ve been here on loan. You have to be strong to continue to perform on the pitch with everything that’s going on and with the injuries we’ve had and the players we’ve had missing. But we are all together and we are still fighting. A lot of the players see me as a senior player and this has improved me as a person. It’s made me a strong person. Being at Hearts is something I would never ever regret. I’ve learned a lot and it’s been tremendous.”
Hearts host St Mirren today looking for revenge for the 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Paisley men in the League Cup final at Hampden in March. Ngoo dealt with the crushing disappointment of missing out on his first senior winners’ medal by heading home to London to be with his family and friends.
“All the players are looking forward to the game and it will be a good test,” he said. “I was hurting quite a lot that day at Hampden. It took about a week, two weeks, to get over it. This is another chance to play them – and beat them.
“It was disappointing because we showed in patches of the game that we could beat them. Unfortunately we didn’t take our chances. Is it one that got away? Yes, it’s disappointing because we’ve got better players than them and we should have beaten them, but unfortunately we didn’t.
“I went back home to London to see my family after the final. My friends and family were at the final and we went back down south together.”
Second-bottom Saints arrive at Tynecastle knowing a win will officially secure their SPL survival and consign Dundee – who face Aberdeen tomorrow – to the First Division next season. Eight points currently separate the sides with three games remaining, although the Buddies also have a significantly better goal difference. That hasn’t stopped Dundee manager John Brown playing mind games with the Paisley side in an attempt to unnerve them. Earlier this week, he claimed that Hearts would be too strong for the Buddies, insisting that Lennon’s men had downed tools since beating Hearts in the League Cup final in mid-March.
Ngoo, however, is adamant Saints will be fired up today, insisting he and his team-mates will simply be focusing on their own game and not what effect a home win would have on the visitors.
He said: “I’ve not been reading them, but if he is saying we will be motivated to win because of the cup final, he would be correct. They are possibly feeling the pressure, but our job is to go out and put in a good performance.”