Abiola Dauda might have wished he had insisted to Robbie Neilson he really wasn’t fit enough to start Sunday’s derby following his sudden switch to Hearts on loan from Vitesse Arnhem. His sluggish performance in that game meant some Hearts fans were already the questioning the striker’s worth just a few days after his arrival.
Dauda may have been better served had he sat that one out and left fans relishing what they had been told about a striker who has won national league titles in Sweden and Serbia. Instead they watched with increasing dismay as he flitted in and mostly out of proceedings, their disappointment compounded by Hibs’ late comeback.
By his own admission Dauda had not expected to play so long on Sunday. Due to injuries to others, he wheezed through a whole 90 minutes. Handed a more reasonable assignment on Wednesday night as a second-half substitute against Ross County, he exploded into life with two goals, one with each foot, in little more than half an hour. His first was a right-foot strike from a tight angle into the corner of Scott Fox’s net, having placed the ball very precisely through the legs of defender Paul Quinn. His second, meanwhile, was sent curling into the top corner, this time with his left foot.
Three hundred Hearts fans travelled back from the Highlands with some heartening news for the stay-at-homes: Dauda really does look like the real deal.
But the player himself has urged these supporters to refrain even now from judging him since he can get better still. While this is good news for the Hearts fans, it is bad news for Hibs followers. They can rest assured that Dauda is determined to show his true self against them on Tuesday, when the teams meet again in their Scottish Cup fifth round replay.
Dauda has explained how he felt last Sunday when handed a starting slot in such a ferociously contested game just days after landing in Scotland.
“I had not played at that intensity for quite a while,” he said. “Before I came here I was only getting 20 minutes here and 15 minutes there. So for me to play in the derby was great. I was looking forward to it.
“I just had to do all I could and whenever the gas was finished, it was finished. It turned out the gas was finished after 60 minutes or so!
“I pushed myself a lot and now I had another 30 minutes,” he added. “I can feel myself getting better and better.”
Neilson found it difficult to decide what positive to focus on first when he met with reporters after the 3-0 victory over County which consolidated third place.
Should he applaud the resilience of his side after the criticism endured for letting slip a 2-0 lead against Hibs four days earlier? Should he praise a defence which included by the end two teenagers for shutting out a County side with considerable firepower?
In the end it was Dauda’s headline-stealing achievements that he turned to, describing the striker as “different class”.
It seems his claim that Dauda is a better all-round player than the departed Osman Sow could be accurate, even if it caused eyebrows to be raised at the time.
Dauda is confident he will continue building form and fitness, with another outing to come against Partick Thistle this weekend. He then gets his second taste of an Edinburgh derby so soon into his Hearts career.
“I think the fitter I get the sharper I will be, and the more I will be able to play with my instinct,” he said. “In Holland you pass and pass and keep the ball and you can have a rest. But here you don’t have a lot of time but that suits me and my way of playing.”
He showed a flash of this striker’s instinct on Wednesday, trying an audacious shot through the legs of Quinn, his marker, which then curled into the far corner of the net, leaving Fox stranded. As first goals for new clubs go, it was special.
“I didn’t think too much about it,” he reflected. “I wanted to cut inside and take a shot. But I saw the space between the defender’s legs and I was confident the goalkeeper wouldn’t get there.
“It was a risk I took. If I got it through the defender’s legs, I knew it would go in. If it didn’t, it would have been a cheeky attempt!”