Hearts striker Uche Ikpeazu ends goal drought but admits ‘I need to work harder, I need to do better’

Uche Ikpeazu has worked hard to reach Hearts' second cup semi-final of the season having missed the Betfred Cup semi due to injury. Picture: SNS.
Uche Ikpeazu has worked hard to reach Hearts' second cup semi-final of the season having missed the Betfred Cup semi due to injury. Picture: SNS.
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Much has been made of Uche Ikpeazu’s size and there is no denying that he is a huge presence on the pitch, but no-one who speaks to the striker and certainly none of his Hearts coaches or team-mates would accuse him of being too big for his boots.

Which is why he had been beating himself up about the lack of goals scored since returning from his four month injury lay-off and why, having finally found the net on Tuesday night, against Partick Thistle in the Scottish Cup quarter-final replay, he celebrated his goal but was unable to shake the frustration of missing what fortunately proved to be an irrelevant spot-kick later in the head to head.

“We should have had the game wrapped up and I should have scored the penalty,” he said, betraying an unwillingness to rest on laurels.

“I’m not relaxed. I need to score more, I need to work harder, I need to do better. That’s just my mentality. I put pressure on myself because I know I can dominate games and I should be dominating games. When I’m not playing well I’m really disappointed in myself. I’m very ambitious and I know that when I’m not controlling the ball or protecting the ball, that’s putting more pressure on my team and when I do make mistakes I get frustrated because I know I can do better.”

Content with much of his recent performances, the scoring drought has bothered Ikpeazu, which is why he was keen to add to his tally from the spot-kick on Tuesday.

“It wasn’t a good penalty,” he added. “Fortunately, we still won. Everyone misses penalties. The best players in the world miss penalties. I’ve scored penalties in my career but I missed on 
Tuesday.

“I’ll just keep working hard. I know hard work pays off. But I want to score goals. The penalty was an opportunity for me to score. I missed and it put my team under pressure. It was bittersweet in the end because we’re still through to the semis.”

It will be the Gorgie club’s second semi-final of the season but the 24-year-old, along with other key players, missed out on the League Cup defeat by Celtic. Now that they have a second chance, this time against Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Cup, Hearts are hoping to make it all the way to the final.

“I watched that one at home, with my foot up in a cast,” said the striker. “To be part of it again is amazing. It’s testament to my hard work and the physios around me. I’m just focused on the task ahead and taking every day as it comes. But if we do what we need to do, we’ll be fine.”

The comeback was an arduous one for Ikpeazu who signed in the summer and grafted hard on his own to make sure he would hit the ground running. Thrilled to be stepping up from English League Two side Cambridge United, he knew he had to grasp the opportunity with both hands, which is why the foot injury only ten games into his competitive career at Hearts was such a blow.

By then, though, he had netted four goals and proved a pivotal component in the early-season form with which Hearts set the Premiership pace and reached the last four in the first major knockout competition.

Having battled back, the missing piece of the jigsaw was goals and Ikpeazu admitted it had been playing on his mind, despite the club’s show of faith in offering him a contract extension.

That backing was one reason why he headed for the dugout to celebrate with manager Craig Levein, pictured, and the backroom staff after his24th-minute equaliser to get Hearts back on track against Partick Thistle.

“Scoring is a habit,” he said. “I’ve been out for so long so it was good to hit the net again. It was a relief.

“I love scoring goals. I’ve scored throughout my career and not scoring has been frustrating although I feel I’ve been getting back to my best over the last few games. It’s good to get on the scoresheet and hopefully I can go on a run.

“The gaffer and coaching staff have been brilliant to me and always let me know they believe in me even when I haven’t been scoring goals.

“The gaffer just tells me how it is all the time. He expects big things from me and he has put a lot of faith in me. Now I have to repay him.”