Hearts: Calum Elliot aims to have a ton of fun

CALUM ELLIOT will reach 100 first-team appearances for Hearts against Motherwell tomorrow, although the striker admits cementing himself in manager Jim Jefferies' plans is proving somewhat arduous.

Coaching staff are treating Elliot with extreme caution after two ligament injuries to his right knee devastated his season. He has managed only nine appearances and conceded today that only next season will he be able to properly showcase his potential to Jefferies.

That does not prevent him craving a central role in the final four matches of the current campaign.

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Hearts' pursuit of a place in the qualifying phase of the Europa League has invigorated the entire squad and Elliot has the personal supplement of that 100th top-team outing to think of.

"It's always good to get to a milestone. I'm just looking to get on the pitch now and try to help the team into Europe," he said.

"I've not really been involved just because they're trying to look after my knee.

"They don't really want to risk it towards next season.

"It's just a matter of trying to see out this season really and making sure I'm right for next season. They are making sure I don't have any more setbacks because I've had enough recently. It's all about getting to the end of the campaign and taking it from there.

"You want to impress the manager and do enough in training. I have to work hard in training, make sure I'm ready for the games and do well when I get a chance.

"The most important thing now is to get a good pre-season behind me. I've not had one for maybe three years now. Once I get that then once the season starts I'll be raring to go."

Elliot underwent surgery on the knee last August and endured an aborted comeback attempt in December when the ligament problems resurfaced.

He has also taken several injections during attempts to remedy the problem and finally feels fit again just as the season is drawing to a conclusion.

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He is motivated by the prospect of reaching 100 games for Hearts at the relatively tender age of 23, an achievement all the more remarkable considering he has spent a total of ten months on loan at Motherwell and Livingston. Nevertheless, his recent lack of game time and prolonged injury absences have affected confidence levels and he said: "That's probably the most difficult thing, especially when you've come back from serious injury twice.

"It's about trying to build up to a level you reached before. It's only now that I've been training for two months that I'm getting confidence back in myself. Hopefully, now I can get a chance to play.

"The manager hasn't spoken to me one on one, it's been more through Billy Brown, his assistant. I've just been told to make sure I'm right for next season. But you want to play your part as well. The most important thing is the team is doing well, you just have to bid your time until a chance comes.

"I'm fit and available for selection, it's just when the manager thinks I'm ready to play. Everybody has great respect for the manager because of the jobs he's done elsewhere. I just have to wait and, when he feels I'm ready, I'll play."

It is an indirect blessing stemming from the injuries that recent criticism of Hearts' forwards has, for a change, not been aimed in Elliot's direction.

The widely-held consensus that the club requires an attacker of genuine presence and goalscoring threat is not one Elliot subscribes to, although he is well versed with the fickle approach of the public.

"It doesn't bother me, everybody's entitled to their opinion. The punters pay good money so they are entitled to their opinion. When the team isn't scoring goals it's easy to go with (criticism of] the strikers, that's understandable really.

"You can't score goals if there aren't chances created. It's the whole thing. Maybe the team hadn't been playing well but in recent weeks everybody has picked up and we've started to do a bit better.

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"I've always had confidence in my ability and, as with any striker, if they get the right service I'm sure they'll score goals. Everybody wants to impress and I'm no different."

Tomorrow's opponents need no introduction to a player who spent time on loan at Fir Park and still incurs the wrath of Lanarkshire supporters who never warmed to him. But Elliot has never been one to be distracted from the task in hand, and his mind is transfixed on propelling Hearts towards the Europa League.

"It's just like any other game, I want to make sure we get the three points. If we do that we move closer to Europe for next season," he said.

To do so, Hearts must ensure their lackadaisical start at Fir Park last month – which saw them staring at a two-goal deficit inside the opening 15 minutes of a 3-1 defeat – is not repeated. In fact, Elliot believes recollections of that afternoon will provide ample motivation tomorrow.

"Motherwell have had a good season and been unlucky in the last few weeks," he added. "They gave us one of our biggest defeats under the present manager so we're looking to rectify that. We'll be looking to make sure we don't start in the same way we did at Fir Park. We need to go at them from the start.

"What happened last time against them still hurts. Because of the way we started, the manager will be telling us not to do the same again. We all realise it wasn't good enough last time."