Hearts striker Uche Ikpeazu aiming to make up for lost time
The 23-year-old made a big impact after swapping Cambridge for the capital in the summer but a freak foot injury halted his early progress.
It was initially feared Ikpeazu would be ruled out for the campaign, but after having surgery in October he has worked tirelessly to return to fitness.
His absence coincided with injuries to Christophe Berra, John Souttar and Steven Naismith and the brakes were put on Hearts’ stunning early-season form as they dropped from the Ladbrokes Premiership’s top spot down to fifth.
But with that trio also having recovered, Ikpeazu is determined to get both himself and Hearts back to where they were.
The striker, who is set to start against Auchinleck Talbot in Sunday’s William Hill Scottish Cup tie following a 25-minute midweek run-out against Livingston, said: “It’s been tough but I’ve worked really hard to get back.
“Now I’m just focusing on having a good ending to the season and making up for lost time.
“It was crazy being out at the same time as a lot of other guys. We seemed to have so many injuries all of a sudden.
“It’s difficult being injured but we were all in the same boat trying to get back fit so we just all encouraged each other.
“I still maintain now that had we kept all our players fit, we’d still be right up there after the great start we had to the season.
“Even now we’re not far away but it was frustrating when you see the team losing and you can’t make get out there to help the team. But I know the best is yet to come.
“At the beginning of the season I had targets and goals for the team and for myself individually. I felt like I was on course to achieve that before the hiccup with my injury but now I’m back, we have to aim high.
“I think we’ve got a good squad, with good ability, and anything is possible.”
Ikpeazu knows what will be going through the minds of the Talbot players as they look to cause their second cup shock.
Ian McCall’s side knocked out high-flying Championship side Ayr in the fourth round and that brought memories flooding back for Ikpeazu.
He fired English League Two Cambridge ahead against second-tier Leeds in a 2017 FA Cup clash before the Elland Road outfit fought back for victory.
He said: “My biggest cup moment down south was when I was with Cambridge and scored against Leeds.
“My cup story with Hearts starts on Sunday and hopefully I can make some history here.
“It’s a huge day for Auchinleck but we can’t take anything for granted. What they did to Ayr in the last round is a warning to us. Fair play to them for beating a Championship side.
“We’ve just got to play to our standard and we should be fine.”