Ryan Stevenson is acutely aware that his current goal drought could not have arrived at a worse time. Hearts need goals and although it is far from his sole responsibility to provide them, he has yet to contribute so much as a single strike since
returning to the club in a
surprise move in August.
Ryan Stevenson is acutely aware that his current goal drought could not have arrived at a worse time. Hearts need goals and although it is far from his sole responsibility to provide them, he has yet to contribute so much as a single strike since returning to the club in a surprise move in August.
It has reached the stage where he is desperate for a deflection off his backside to get him up and running again. Indeed, such are their struggles in front of goal at present, anyone at Hearts would be glad to take this. Hearts, who entertain Aberdeen this afternoon, have scored just twice in their last six matches, and one of those goals came from the penalty spot.
Callum Paterson has been employed as lone striker for the majority of the season, and though the 18-year-old has worked tirelessly, he is being asked to bear the burden of scoring while still finding his feet in the Scottish Premier League.
In addition, he is trying to do this in a position that, although not alien to him, is not where he imagined being deployed. Neither is it where he started the season, when he caught the eye as a swashbuckling full-back. Stevenson had hoped to relieve the pressure, but has been operating mostly from a deeper role in midfield. Even so, he is disappointed not to have found the net so far.
“That [scoring] is a big part of my game,” he concedes. “With Callum playing up front on his own, I’m looking to myself to help out and score goals. It’s one of these things. It happens, people go through droughts and people go through stages where they don’t score.
“I’m not going to let it affect me, I am not going to let it get me down or put a negative on me. I will just keep doing what I always do and, sooner or later, it will come.”
Stevenson endured a similarly frustrating period when he joined Hearts first time around. After arriving from Ayr United in January 2010, it took Stevenson six months to score his first goal, although this period included a close season. He broke this duck against Inverness on his 15th appearance in a maroon jersey. Interestingly, should he play this afternoon, it will be his 15th appearance since his return to Tynecastle.
“Once I got my goal last time I was up and running,” he recalled. “It’s the same old thing, once you get one, everything you hit seems to go in. You start to feel more comfortable. I’m more experienced and I’m not going to let that affect me. Maybe subconsciously it does but I’m trying not to let it affect me. I’m not going to make excuses for myself. It’s been difficult. I’ll come through it and as a team we will come through it.”
Admirably, he refuses to use money worries as an excuse. The players deferred a month’s salary payment last month as Hearts struggled to pay a tax bill, but these concerns, compounded by the club’s need to locate extra funds simply to reach the end of the season, should not provide the players with a way out when it comes to a discussion on under-performance, he contends.
“Do you want to look at yourself and use that as an excuse? I don’t,” he said. “I will not hide from it. I’ve not been playing as well as I can play, I’ve not been scoring as many goals as I should be. Do I want to use that as an excuse and say it’s the money situation, it’s this, it’s that? No. It is what it is. It’s not great but we’re football players and we’re paid to play. We love playing football and that’s why we do it.
“The fans pay their money to come and we need to step up to the plate and make sure we are doing well on the pitch. That’s got nothing to do with the money.”
He admits that last Sunday’s defeat by Hibernian in the Scottish Cup, just months after thrashing their rivals to win the trophy, was another reality check. Past achievements can count for little now. “After Sunday it’s maybe hit home a bit more,” he said. “We go into the Aberdeen game and we’re only nine points behind Hibs, who are sitting second.”
Alternatively, he knows that Hearts are only seven points off the bottom team. However, a win this afternoon against Aberdeen would certainly alleviate the pressure on manager John McGlynn, who Stevenson yesterday applauded for his diligence.
“I would hate to be the gaffer’s wife because I genuinely don’t think he gets to see her,” he said. “He’s working all the time, he’s away to games and he’s doing the video analysis. He covers everything with a fine-tooth comb. He is looking at everything he possibly can and doing everything he possibly can.
“Everyone can go on about the money worries and the fact we’re playing a lot of young boys. The experienced boys have to carry more on their shoulders because we’re here to help the young boys. It’s a football club – and we now need to start winning football matches.”
Meanwhile, Craig Brown believes there is a “persecution complex” around cash-strapped Hearts which will make the trip to Tynecastle a tricky prospect.
He said: “Hearts have had a couple of, for them, unsatisfactory results so they’ll be desperate to restore the pride they’ve got in their club.
“Also, they’ve got a cause down there at the moment and I expect a big crowd to support the cause. When there is a persecution complex about a club and about a team, the fans rally round, the players get stuck in so we’re going to have a very testing afternoon, there’s no doubt about that.
“We just hope we can keep our very good away form and I’m confident about that, but they are a good side with good players.”