Hearts No.9 Conor Washington on his relief at getting his first goal and the role Austin MacPhee had in taking him to Tynecastle

Hearts' Connor Washington scored in the Betfred Cup win against Motherwell. Picture: SNS
Hearts' Connor Washington scored in the Betfred Cup win against Motherwell. Picture: SNS
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His manager hadn’t allowed it to cloud his judgment when signing him and Conor Washington said it had not left him fearing that the Hearts No 9 shirt would be too big for him.

But there was a sense of relief when his 18-month scoring drought at club level came to an end at Fir Park on Friday night. It sealed the victory for Hearts to alleviate some of the pressure that had been building on manager Craig Levein and his players, which had been exacerbated by last weekend’s woeful home outing against Ross County. It also booked them a place in the last eight of the Betfred Cup and freed Washington of the extra baggage that had been weighing him down since arriving in Gorgie.

“It gets the monkey off the back and hopefully it’s the start of a good run,” said the 27-year-old striker, who had netted on international duty with Northern Ireland in the summer but had not made it on to the scoresheet at club level since February last year.

“It doesn’t bother me, I’m still getting up to speed. I didn’t really get a full pre-season. The way I play, getting a run of 90 minutes that’ll help me get fit and it has been more about that but obviously the goals are nice as well.”

Most strikers suffering such a lull in goal returns would have suffered a period of introspection and self-doubt, but Washington has managed to keep a lid on the mental gremlins. Buoyed by the fact that the Gorgie management team showed faith in him to deliver the goals with Northern Ireland coach and Hearts assistant boss Austin MacPhee vouching for him when they enlisted him this summer, he feels he is now on the right track to repay that trust.

“We won’t talk about the past 18 months! It’s been a frustrating time. But I think I played the equivalent of six games of club football last year in terms of minutes, so I’ve come to Hearts to play games and score goals and hopefully this will be the start of a good run.

“That was the biggest draw for coming here – how much the gaffer and Austin believe in me. Austin sold the gaffer on me, which was really important to me. Being the age I am, I need to get regular game time and hopefully regular goals again.

“That must be the longest I’ve gone without scoring – I’d like to think so anyway! And you just want to go out and contribute. As a striker it’s your job to score.”

And he had been trying desperately to open the account in his first few appearances and as soon as the opportunity to take a penalty came up, there was no way he was passing it.

“No chance. I’ve been on Sean [Clare’s] case for a while. I’m not glad he missed [the first penalty of the match] but hopefully now I’ve scored mine, it’s the start of me getting to take some more penalties. We’ve got some great players with great feet in the box and hopefully we can get a few more and I’m confident enough to take them and score them so hopefully I get a chance.

“It’s been a running joke that so far I’ve hit the target so many times but we knew it would turn eventually. The keeper made two good saves in the game against Ross County, and at Cowdenbeath it hit the keeper in the face! When you’re on a good run those chances just go in.

“I had a similar run at Peterborough. I must have gone 14 or 15 games without any then scored 13 in 13. But that’s just the luck of the draw as a striker. You’ve just got to get on with it and hopefully help in other ways.”

An energetic, vibrant and committed component of Hearts’ counter-attacking ability, he busied himself constantly against Motherwell as the Tynecastle side tried to make amends for the previous week’s poor showing.

The fact it helped them through to the last eight of the first of the country’s premier cup competitions for this season was also a massive driving force.

“A big part of coming up here was to be challenging for silverware. That’s a genuine chance here.

“The lads got to a final last year and it would be great to do that again and get some silverware.”