JUANMA might have picked a better place and time to miss a glaring opportunity from inside the six-yard box than under the noses of the 2,316 Hearts supporters who had travelled to Dens Park on Saturday.
The chance he headed wide of the post after 36 minutes fell very much into the sitter category. It also looked potentially damaging to Hearts’ hopes of taking something from the game since it came towards the end of a half in which the visitors endured an often torrid time. Yet, somehow, Dundee were only one goal ahead after missing several good opportunities themselves.
Juanma had another opportunity to equalise shortly before half-time but a close-range header skidded off his eyebrows and went wide. The player’s disappointments came at the away end, where the by-now fretting Hearts fans were given a perfect view of an agonising moment for them as well as their new striker.
It invited some seeds of doubt to form about Juanma’s ability. Helped by St Johnstone defender Brad McKay’s slip six days earlier when scoring his first goal for the club, perhaps the big Spaniard really isn’t what he was cracked up to be. More fool those of us who were beginning to think this way. Juanma took just seven second-half minutes to show there is a good chance he is the real deal after all. Scoring a penalty might not normally be something to enthuse about – after all, shouldn’t all professional footballers be able to strike a ball past a goalkeeper and into the net from 12 yards?
But it is slightly more difficult when confidence is low because a bad miss is preying on the mind. However, he flung off these concerns and planted a nerveless penalty past Dundee goalkeeper Scott Bain, whom the Spaniard sent the wrong way.
The goal drew Hearts level after Kane Hemmings’ early strike for Dundee further buoyed an already expectant home crowd. But it was Juanma’s second goal that really marked him out as potentially something special. Picking up a loose ball, he strode into the box past a couple of flailing Dundee challenges and then picked his spot with great composure in the far corner of Bain’s goal.
That’s now three goals in two league starts. Football often encourages rash pronouncements. After being written off by some after a poor first half at Dens, it is only natural there would be talk afterwards of Juanma having what it takes to become as popular and effective a striker for Hearts as someone like Stephane Adam, or even Rudi Skacel.
He certainly has the physical attributes to flourish in this league and his technical ability was showcased with that wonderful winning goal. He also appears to have that streak of cunning that can so annoy opposition fans. The Dundee supporters were agitated by what they considered was play-acting by Juanma towards the end.
Alarmingly for those opposition defenders set to be introduced to Juanma in the coming weeks, team-mate Morgaro Gomis believes there is still much more from him to come.
“He’s a good player and you can see already that he can finish,” said Gomis. “There is more to come from him, hopefully, because – like half of the squad, including myself – he didn’t do a proper pre-season.
“We’re just happy to have him and I hope he can carry on playing as well as that,” he added. “As for him riling up defenders, I’m not going to say anything about that – that’s just the way he plays and we have to get on with it.”
Gomis didn’t want all the focus to be trained on Juanma, despite his match-winning contribution on Saturday. The midfielder voiced the opinion that Hearts can count on goals from several sources, which is a reasonable assessment considering Robbie Neilson’s side have now scored ten in their first three outings this season.
Juanma has struck three of these. Not bad, of course. But he isn’t the only one on whom Hearts are pinning their hopes of maintaining this strong start to the season on their return to the Premiership.
“There are goals in this team,” said Gomis. “Juanma has shown that, plus we have Osman [Sow], who has done well for us, and Gavin Reilly looked really good when he came on. I think all of our strikers will do well this season.”
For Dundee, it was yet another day when they failed to make the most of a fair wind that included a noisy, optimistic home support ready to cheer their side on as they sought to maintain poll position in the league table. Instead, Dundee surrendered this place to Hearts, despite an opening half when they reached the heights of the previous weekend’s 4-0 defeat of Kilmarnock.
Dundee manager Paul Hartley believed his side should have been three ahead by half-time. The goal they did score was artfully worked from a corner kick and involved Greg Stewart, Paul McGowan and goalscorer Hemmings. Stewart caught the eye in the opening half and seemed more likely to emerge as the game’s pivotal figure than the initially unimpressive Juanma.
But that’s football for you. Stewart’s form dramatically slumped in the second half, but he was not alone in this among the home ranks.
Dundee need to ensure they reproduce the level of performance reached in three out of the four halves they have played so far this season when they return to action in tomorrow’s derby at Tannadice.