Hearts set challenge for Craig Wighton to earn a new contract

Hearts’ joint-top goalscorer Craig Wighton has been given a clear mandate to earn a contract extension for next season.

Craig Wighton wants to continue his scoring form for Hearts.

The 23-year-old has seven goals in 13 games so far this term, a ratio bettered only by first-choice striker Liam Boyce’s tally of seven in ten. Wighton’s deal expires at the end of the season and Hearts will look to extend it if he continues rippling nets.

Manager Robbie Neilson has challenged the player to maintain goalscoring form into the New Year and then the club will begin talks about a new contract. Three of Wighton’s strikes have come as a substitute, including two in Saturday’s 5-3 win against Ayr United.

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“If he continues to do what he’s doing then it’s something we’ll definitely look at in order to extend it,” said Neilson ahead of tonight’s Championship meeting with Arbroath at Tynecastle Park.

“Craig has been doing very well but, with all the players, the focus is on making sure we get promoted and once we clinch that promotion we can starting talking.

“He’s come off the bench in his last two appearances and had a real influence in the game. He did really well on Saturday going up front with Boycie and he gives us a lot of options up there.

“The next two games are really important then we have the Scottish Cup. There are a number of big games for us in January. We’ve got Dunfermline and Raith Rovers twice, plus the Dundee game at the start of it.

“It’s a big five or six weeks for us and we need to make sure we’re ready for it, but it starts against Arbroath.”

Significant campaign

Wighton is pressing for a starting place this evening and wants to ensure he keeps scoring. The first two thirds of his three-year Hearts contract were hampered by injuries and the forward knows the significance of this one.

“This season was all about game time and scoring goals. I’ve done that so far. If I keep that up then hopefully it’s enough to convince the manager I’m worth a new contract,” he said.

“If not, then hopefully I will have options. I just want to help the team as much as I can and then in the summer see where that takes me. We’ve not spoken about it at all. It’s up to me to keep my form going.

“This is the best I've felt physically. I've had a lot of game time – probably more than I expected at the start of the season. The manager has been good and the type of football we're playing suits me. I've scored a few goals so hopefully I'll keep that going.

“On the bench, you want to come on and make an impact. It's pleasing when you do that. Whether it's enough to get in the team or not, I just need to keep scoring goals when I'm on the pitch. Hopefully I can get a run in the team.”

Warming to Wighton

Hearts supporters are now warming to Wighton after the difficulties of those first two years since his £100,000 move from Dundee. The player suffered a setback earlier this month during the Scottish Cup final with Celtic when his penalty was saved as Hearts lost the trophy in a shootout.

However, he recovered quickly to recapture goalscoring form against Ayr. “It took me a few days. I never slept much that night but I can't dwell on it for too long,” he admitted. “We have a lot of games coming up. It was good to get back to winning ways and score a couple of goals.

“The semi-final was such a high and I'd performed well in the league. When you then go and miss a penalty and we lose the final, I was gutted. However, the league is the most important thing and we need to get back to where we belong.

"We know it won't be easy. Ayr scored three goals the other day and had a few chances. It's a tough league. Getting a couple of goals and getting my confidence back after the penalty miss will definitely help.”

He has avoided most of the reaction from supporters – good and bad. “I don't have Twitter or anything any more. I can imagine what gets said after missing a penalty in a final but you don't want to look too much into that.

“After scoring two the other day I had a lot of nice messages so that's always good. I want to be scoring goals and that will change people's opinions. It's important I keep trying to do what I've been doing. Hopefully I can score a few more goals and keep proving people wrong.”

Not welcome at Gayfield

Arbroath need no reminding of his threat. Wighton spent a brief spell on loan there last season, netting three times in five appearances. He also climbed off the bench to score the winner when the teams met at Gayfield in October.

Dick Campbell, the Arbroath manager, won’t be too thrilled seeing Wighton again as he brings his second-bottom team to Edinburgh.

“Yeah, he said I wasn’t welcome back at Gayfield,” smiled the striker. “Everyone knows what Arbroath are about. They are better than where they are in the league. It’s going to be a tough game.”

Hearts are three points clear of Dunfermline at the top with a game in hand. Wighton feels they have still to find top gear. “The more you play then the more you score and the confidence comes with that. You probably then try things you normally wouldn’t,” he explained.

“There’s a lot more to come. We have scored a lot of goals but we can still be more clinical. It’s been a good start and hopefully we can build on it. Our choice of strikers shows how strong the team is. It’s hard for anybody to nail a position down.”

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