Hearts: Maligned striker Calum Elliot finally appears to be fulfilling faith shown in him by Frail & Co
Tonight he lines up against Elgin City brimming with confidence for a Co-operative Cup tie which should be nothing other than a formality for Hearts. His verve will not diminish facing a team currently propping up the Third Division. The transformation from the player who trudged around, shoulders drooped, suffering in the public eye as recently as April this year is remarkable. Elliot puts it down merely to being injury-free, but other factors cannot be ignored.
John Murray, Stephen Frail and others who coached the striker as a teenager maintained faith in his ability whilst patience evaporated in the often unforgiving Tynecastle stands. They spoke of genuine potential within Elliot and were derided for doing so as the player toiled to justify such faith on the field.
Then, with the arrival of Kevin Kyle and Stephen Elliott at Hearts, the burden upon namesake Calum began to lift.
He has taken to the attacking ethos adopted by Jim Jefferies like the proverbial duck to water.
Simultaneously, he achieved full fitness after over a year of persistent knee problems and operations.
The result has been borne out over the opening two weeks of the SPL campaign. A goal against St Johnstone was followed by two in Saturday's destruction of Hamilton, plus a penalty earned ultimately for Kyle's benefit. At 23, six years after his first-team debut, Elliot is in danger of making his mark in maroon.
"There's a massive difference because I'm not injured and I feel good within my body," he told the Evening News. "That's the most important thing for me. The new signings coming in have taken a lot of pressure off me and I'm just enjoying playing football at the moment.
"The manager keeps you on your toes. If you make mistakes, he tells you and it keeps you aware and focused. You find yourself striving to be better.
"It's just being part of a different team and a different set-up. The manager, Billy and Lockie are looking to do something with this team this season and everybody wants to be part of it. I think the gaffer has got inside everyone's heads. He's always on at us and that keeps us striving to push harder. You know you need to do better when there are players not playing who can slot into every position. If you aren't doing enough, you'll be out of the team."
There is no danger of Elliot being demoted on present form. In 13 appearances last season, he failed to score a solitary goal and was badly hindered by the aforementioned knee problems. The season before (2008-09), he played 13 and scored two for Hearts after 11 goals in 14 loan outings with First Division Livingston. His statistics for 2007-08 denote four goals in 27 games. In 2006-07, it was two goals in 29 matches, 20 of which came on loan at Motherwell. You must delve into season 2005-06 to find Elliot's last sustained goalscoring spree, when he plundered six goals in ten appearances during the winter under Graham Rix.
It would be fair to say the encore has been long-awaited, not least by the player, who is revelling in the competition brought by two new forwards harbouring English Premier League experience. He isn't too good to be bawled out, though, as he discovered at New Douglas Park on Saturday.
Jefferies lambasted him during the first half for the heinous crime of releasing the ball instead of holding it with his back to goal. "Gaffer, someone shouted man on", complained Elliot in between tongue- lashings. It would appear those managerial demands are motivating him and several others.
"I know myself when I should have done better and when the manager's shouting at you, you just have to listen and bite your tongue," admitted Elliot. "Obviously the most important thing on Saturday was to get the three points. We went to a difficult ground where we've struggled in the past and managed to win 4-0. It sets the standard for the rest of the season.
"I was delighted to get a couple of goals and be part of a good team performance. There is competition for places in every position this year, that's what happens when you've got good players waiting to come in. It keeps you on your toes and you look forward to playing these games. I want to play in every game. Elgin won't make it easy for us but we just need to make sure we're in the next round of the cup."
He has even taken to passing up penalties, perhaps due to unwilting confidence that he will score from open play. A game of pass the parcel ensued between Elliot, Kyle and Craig Thomson on Saturday once referee Stephen Finnie pointed to the spot. It was Martin Canning's foul on Elliot which earned the award but the striker showed his compassionate side by letting Kyle take the penalty kick.
"Kevin gave the ball to me, I gave it to Tommo. I said to Tommo to give it to Kevin so he can get his first goal because it's always difficult trying to get your first goal at a new club. It's great for him to get off the mark. Everyone saw what a difference he made when he came on. I think he's going to play a big part for us this season.
"We all wanted to take the penalty but at the end of the day it was good for Kevin to get off the mark. Hopefully it's the first of many for us. We need to build on that win now. That performance should be the benchmark set for us now but we can't get carried away. I'm sure the manager, Billy and Lockie won't let us get above ourselves. It's about building slowly now."
Elliot has been building towards this for the last six years, although not without setbacks. Finally, he may be about to realise the potential referred to by Murray, Frail and so many others.