Michael Ngoo made a dynamic start to his Hearts career with a goal in normal time and another in the penalty shoot-out in their League Cup semi-final win over Inverness on Saturday. Now the striker, on loan from Liverpool for the rest of the season, means to continue in the same vein, starting in tonight’s home league game against Dundee.
Ngoo was an instant hit with the Hearts fans at the Easter Road semi-final and believes that, once he gets to know his new team-mates properly, he could be even more effective.
“Obviously, I enjoyed Saturday and, since then, I’ve been really enjoying myself, getting to know the boys more and more,” Ngoo said yesterday. “I’ve still got that buzz now. My confidence is high and I’ll be taking that into [the Dundee] game – I really want the games to come thick and fast, because the experience of Saturday was incredible.
“I thought the fans were out of this world. You couldn’t ask for anything more as a player than having the crowd show you that support. When they give you so much, you automatically give everything back.
“I’d never even been to Scotland before. It’s amazing for me to come up. I’ve been here four or five days and I’m in a final already. Not bad. I didn’t even know I was going to play. On Friday, the manager was handing out bibs, he read out the team and I was in. I just looked at it as being handed an objective – and set about reaching it.”
The Hearts fans’ rapturous reception for Ngoo was not merely caused by his goal. Having seen their team struggle up front all season, here was someone who was clearly quick, in form and able to cause the opposition problems both on the ground and in the air.
“Before I came here, I knew Scottish football was very physical and that the pace of the game would be quick,” he continued. “But I also know you must have technique to play in the Scottish game. There were other options to go to teams down south this month. But, speaking to Danny Wilson [who has also joined Hearts on loan from Liverpool] that helped.
“More than that, though, having watched the boys at Anfield in the Europa League earlier this season, I saw how they worked for one another. That made it a no-brainer to come up here.”
Hearts are the only team in the SPL to have lost twice to Dundee this season – they were beaten at home after playing Liverpool, then lost away after their League Cup quarter-final against Dundee United went to extra time then penalties.
Manager John McGlynn warned yesterday there was no point celebrating the semi-final win if they could not follow it up in the league.
“Dundee will be fighting for their lives and won’t want to be cast any further adrift at the foot of the table – their livelihoods are at stake. They are playing for an awful, awful lot.”
McGlynn can select Ryan Stevenson and Marius Zaliukas after suspension but Scott Robinson is out after being sent off on Saturday. The foot injury Callum Paterson sustained in training last week will probably keep him out beyond the League Cup final and Jamie Hamill and Danny Grainger remain on the long-term injury list. McGlynn said that, although Grainger had been told he was free to look for a new club for next season, Hearts had not completely ruled out offering him a new contract. If they did, however, it would be on reduced terms.
The manager did not rule out more transfer activity before the window closes tomorrow night and said he would be keen on another striker to join Ngoo. Although under-20 player Callum Wyllie has left Tynecastle, meaning there is a place in the squad that Hearts are allowed to fill under the terms of the SPL’s sanctions, the club can not bring in someone who costs them more in wages. It is therefore more likely that someone else would have to leave first.
Zaliukas has attracted interest from Premiership and Championship clubs, as well as teams from eastern Europe, and is expected to be watched by a number of scouts tonight. But, although Hearts would rather pick up some money for him now than see him leave for nothing as a free agent in the summer, the club captain appears in no hurry to move on.
Sunderland striker Ryan Noble is only one of a number of England-based players about whom Hearts have made inquiries, according to club sources.