It has been a season of extremes for Aussie Ryan McGowan at Hearts...
It has been a season of extremes for Aussie Ryan McGowan at Hearts where he has become an increasingly important player on the pitch, whilst his club have descended into a mess of unpaid wages and a mass exodus likely in January.
A trip to Ibrox to face defending champions Rangers provided the first test of the season for McGowan. He passed with flying colours, playing out of position at right back - rather than his usual centre back - and was man of the match. Starting the next few matches, McGowan looked to be establishing himself in the team only for manager Jim Jefferies to be surprisingly sacked and replaced by the Portuguese Paulo Sergio. Sergio's arrival at Tynecastle saw the 22-year-old dropped from the squad in favour of the more experienced Jamie Hamill. Having been heavily beaten in the home leg of their Europa League qualifier against Tottenham, Hearts turned to youth for the return fixture at White Hart Lane. Drawing 0-0,l McGowan again played strongly at right back, getting forward and proving he was far from overawed.
Unfortunately his impressive performance did not see him reinstated into the Hearts starting XI, and he was forced to wait for his next opportunity. While waiting, the club were sucked into a financial crisis. Late in paying wages for the last three months, the club is in turmoil with the players having now had enough and have decided to lodge a complaint with the Scottish PFA and the SPL. The owner of Hearts, Vladimir Romanov, has since put the club up for sale; however the prospects of a quick sale appear slim with Romanov valuing the club at £50 million ( AUS $77.6 million).
The financial clouds over Hearts may be gathering but McGowan has seemed able to put this to one side and has started the last six matches. Underlying his versatility, McGowan has played leftback in the last few weeks in the absence of the suspended Danny Grainger. Far from just filling in, McGowan has been impressive at leftback especially in the weekend's 4-0 win over Dunfermline where he was again named man of the match. The Adelaide-born man had a big hand in the opening two goals for Hearts. For the first, McGowan got on the end of a corner and redirected it across the face for Stephen Elliott to score, the second he drove down the line before cutting in between two defenders to cross for Mehdi Taouil to make it 2-0 inside the first half an hour.
It was not only his involvement in the goals that showed McGowan has the potential to become an important part of the Socceroos in the future. Far from being a marauding fullback, he did look to get forward when the opportunity presented itself and linked up well with left winger David Templeton. With Templeton looking to go inside, Hearts width on the left was determined by McGowan providing it. For the most part, he provided this well although he did not look comfortable going down the outside - rather he was eager to keep the ball on his more dominant right foot and pass infield.
McGowan's defensive abilities were demonstrated throughout the match, highlighting how central defence will more than likely be his long term position. When Dunfermline tried to go down the Young Socceroos' side he proved to be very capable in one on one situations - staying on his feet and cleanly taking the ball on most occasions. His anticipation was also evident when he managed, on a couple of occasions, to get in front of his opponent and cut out the ball and launch Hearts on the attack. As expected of a defender in the SPL, McGowan showed his strength in the air, winning all his aerial battles, and was threatening at set pieces.
The chance to establish himself in Hearts central defence may come sooner than he would have expected with many players expected to be sold in the January transfer window. Having now made more than 20 first team appearances for the club, he looks set to make the most of his opportunity. Hopefully Hearts and the Socceroos will be seeing plenty of the versatile defender in the New Year.
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