Hearts’ Uche Ikpeazu set to hit greater heights says Sean Clare

Hearts' Uche Ikpeazu powers his way through the Dundee defence during Saturday's 1-0 victory. Picture: SNS.
Hearts' Uche Ikpeazu powers his way through the Dundee defence during Saturday's 1-0 victory. Picture: SNS.
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Sean Clare reckons his team-mate, Uche Ikpeazu, is destined for even greater things. As if the big striker hasn’t already shaken enough defences, Clare is adamant he has much more to unleash from his impressive armoury.

Clare was on hand to stab home the winner in Saturday’s hard-fought triumph on Tayside, but Ikpeazu obtained more of the limelight with his performance in leading the line, which fell nothing short of awesome.

Standing at 6ft 3in, the former Cambridge United attacker utilised his full physical frame to throw around Dundee’s helpless defence who simply couldn’t cope no matter what they tried.

Even his manager, Craig Levein, took time out to call for more protection for the strapping 24-year-old who was frequently surrounded by a cluster of desperate opponents struggling to keep him at bay.

The only thing missing from Ikpeazu’s play was, of course, a goal but Clare is convinced once he finds the target in the coming weeks he will reach further heights.

“He’s a handful for any player,” stated Clare, pictured. “Sometimes he’s wrongly done but sometimes defenders are wrongly done. He is a really good outlet, something not many teams in this league have. We need to utilise him.

“Look at him. If he rolls you, then you’re not getting back at him. He is quick and strong and when he links the play and goes, you aren’t going to catch him.

“He just needs a little confidence boost with a goal.”

This was indeed the perfect morale-boosting result for the Edinburgh club ahead of tomorrow night’s Scottish Cup quarter-final replay with Championship hopefuls Partick Thistle at Tynecastle.

Levein was guilty of understatement when he referred to Saturday’s match being far from a classic, but it mattered little overall as his side more or less assured themselves of a top-six finish and remained on course to secure a place in Europe.

Hearts hold a reputation for winning ugly under Levein, although they got their tactics spot on in blustery conditions at Dens Park, and the scrappy nature of midfielder Clare’s goal epitomised much of their afternoon’s efforts.

It wasn’t to be sniffed at against a Dundee side frantically striving to stay in the Premiership as the threat of relegation hovers more than ever over the second-bottom Tayside club.

Should they seal a return to European football, the significance of this particular win isn’t likely to be lost in Gorgie, regardless of how it was achieved.

“It was a tough one,” conceded Clare. “It wasn’t one of my more flamboyant goals but I’ll take them any way they come.

“It’s a massive three points. It was a really resilient performance and I think we deserved the three points. It was a real battle. Dundee made it difficult for us and we made it difficult for them. Both teams gave 100 per cent and it made for a game that was very competitive although maybe not the best to watch.

“We are just happy we came away with three points. We’re looking to be in a good position before the split. After that, we want to give ourselves the best opportunity of getting into Europe. We’re trying to look ahead of ourselves, not behind.

“If we keep putting in resilient performances like Saturday with a bit more quality then we will fly up the table.”

Dundee, for their part, have now lost three consecutive matches in the league. Their inability to deal with a routine ball into the box cost them dear and leaves bottom club St Mirren, who host Kilmarnock tonight, breathing down their necks.

A victory for Oran Kearney’s Saints would send Jim McIntyre’s side back to the bottom of the Premiership and ring alarm bells round Dens where Dundee have won only once this entire season.

Few would back them to build on that sorry sequence since champions Celtic are the next visitors to Tayside for next weekend’s televised encounter, although spirits appear to remain high within the camp despite their troubles.

“We’ve got a tough round of games coming up, starting with Celtic this weekend, said James Horsfield, their on-loan Scunthorpe United right-back.

“We can take a lot of positives from this performance which we can take into Celtic believing we can get a result.

“We don’t want to go into it with any negative thoughts. If we have a good day and they have a bad day, then hopefully we can get something.”