Paul McCallum knows he did not make the kind of impact he might have hoped for in his debut for Hearts. But then first impressions can prove deceptive, as he himself has learned.
If he hadn’t taken time to explore the circumstances that help explain why Hearts had then earned only two points in the league he might never have agreed to join a club so obviously struggling at the bottom of the Premiership table.
He isn’t going to pretend he knew much about the Scottish game, so when he looked at the league table and saw Hearts were so adrift, it made him pause for thought; did he really want to board a sinking ship?
McCallum then did what anyone would have done; he put the name Heart of Midlothian into Google, and began to learn more about the club. “I didn’t know anyone up here, so it was all brand new to me,” he says. “So I quickly whacked Heart of Midlothian into Google.
“I looked at the league table and I saw they only had two points from 23 games. And I was like: ‘Woah! What’s going on there?
“So I carried on searching and I discovered what had happened.”
As he explored further, the reason for Hearts’ predicament became clearer. The club were in administration. They had been docked 15 points. And as far as he could make out, they were making a pretty decent fist of overcoming this significant obstacle, a fight which continues in the Highlands today against Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
McCallum arrived after successive wins against Ross County and St Mirren had raised spirits, although such a sense of buoyancy was quickly extinguished by the League Cup semi-final defeat to Inverness in which the on-loan West Ham United player made his debut as a substitute.
When the striker came on Hearts were trailing 1-0. Within minutes, they were 2-1 ahead. The striker had every right to think there was nothing to this Scottish football lark. “When I came on the fans went a bit crazy and that gave me a lot of adrenaline,” he recalled. “The game then sort of switched and we went 2-1 up after I had been on the pitch for 15 minutes. I thought: ‘This is great! I had come on and the game had changed and we were going to win.
“Then they went down to nine men and I thought the win was definitely cemented. But they dug deep and fought hard and got the draw to take the game to extra-time and then penalties.” This is where McCallum’s debut quickly soured.
“I am always confident taking penalties so I said I would go first,” he explained. “But unfortunately the keeper saved it.” Had he scored, it would have put Hearts 1-0 in the lead, as Inverness also failed to score with their first kick.
Now McCallum is out to repay the fans and make amends for the failure to score, although manager Gary Locke has already insisted this is not necessary; it was enough for the 20 year-old to volunteer to take the first kick. That told the manager all he needed to know about the new recruit, who says he has modelled his game on Andy Carroll. The pair trained together at West Ham.
“He is a big, big presence and I look up to him because he is the same type of player as I am,” said McCallum. “He’ll come up to us on the training field and give us advice.”
Meanwhile, Inverness Caley Thistle captain Richie Foran admits he only has himself to blame for his extended six week lay-off after the 33-year-old Irishman injured his shoulder in the 4-3 home defeat to Aberdeen four days before Christmas. He made his return to first-team duty with a second-half substitute run-out against Scottish Cup fifth-round opponents Stranraer last week and is in line to face Hearts.
But Foran claims he ended up delaying his comeback by pushing too hard during his recovery. The former Motherwell midfielder – who came through an Under-20s clash with Hamilton on Tuesday unscathed – said: “It was good to get 90 minutes under my belt. It was five or six weeks since my last full game so it was a good work out for the lungs and the body.
“It was good to get through the game without more shoulder problems as that’s what we were testing. It is still irritating me a little bit but I’m getting through the games which is all that matters.