Never a prodigious goalscorer, Ross Callachan is eyeing a best-ever total in a season where he has made what has proved a testing step up.
The Hearts midfielder’s early strike on Sunday in the 1-1 draw with Dundee was his fifth of the season and the fourth since joining the Tynecastle club from Raith Rovers in August.
A lot has been made of Hearts’ young squad, comprising the likes of teenagers Harry Cochrane and Lewis Moore, having to adjust to the physical demands of Premiership football. But it’s sometimes forgotten Callachan, too, has had to find his feet in the top tier after a career spent in the lower leagues with Raith Rovers.
The 24-year-old admits it has been tough. He has emerged from a recent dip in form and struck a fine finish that ought to have helped his side on the way to victory at Dens Park. It’s his fourth goal for his boyhood favourites in just 22 appearances. Callachan also scored in a Betfred Cup tie for Raith against Brora Rangers earlier in the season.
Prior to this, his best total was three, last season. He did not find the net in his first three seasons with Raith. So he’s right to feel satisfied with a debut campaign at Hearts. However, he admits some of his performances have slipped below the standard he strives for in what has been a period of transition after moving to Tynecastle, where extra pressure was heaped on his shoulders as a supporter.
“I feel I came in and hit the ground running to be fair, but I had a wee dip,” said Callachan. “I always want to get better and improve – what can I learn and improve on?”
“It’s more relentless [in the Premiership]. It is a wee bit higher tempo. A lot of the teams are stronger, fitter and harder to play against. I have maybe been a bit inconsistent. There was a run of games recently when I was not too great. I just have to turn up each day and work hard.
“I have added a few goals this season,” he added. “I think that’s four [for Hearts]. Hopefully I can get a couple more before the season finishes.”
Callachan admits the failure to secure a top-six spot against Dundee sums up Hearts’ season. They will likely get there before the week is out but it doesn’t feel like something to shout about.
While his own achievement in earning a move to Hearts merits acclaim, Callachan is more downbeat when reflecting on the campaign from the team’s point of view.
“Top six? It’s alright, we just need to take it,” he shrugged. “I think with the dressing room we have we could have done a lot better. I think the boys all know that. I think that’s just the belief in ourselves and what we could have achieved.
“The gaffer [Craig Levein] now has a whole pre-season to get us fit and work on the way he wants us to play and he never really had that this year. Hopefully that will help us and we can start next season really well.”
Like Callachan, those teenagers who have made the breakthrough this season can only benefit from the experience of over half a season in and around the first team.
“They will only improve,” said Callachan. “We finished with three or four of them (v Dundee). Five or six have had a good contribution this season. They have done well. They can be anything they want in the game. They are that young and getting the chance in the Scottish Premiership. If they want it enough they can go and play in the English Premiership. It is up to them really.”