Craig Wighton admits he is determined to grasp his Hearts lifeline and prove he is good enough to earn a new contract.
The striker thought his days at Tynecastle were numbered when he was allowed to join Arbroath on loan in January after only managing 94 minutes of Premiership action during an injury-hampered first half of the campaign.
However, manager Robbie Neilson, who returned to the club in the summer to replace Daniel Stendel, has made it clear that the 23-year-old will be a major part of his plans in this term’s Championship.
Wighton, who is in the last year of his contract, is set to lead the line in tonight’s Betfred Cup visit of Inverness with Liam Boyce on international duty with Northern Ireland.
And the former Scotland Under-21 international is desperate to finally get his Hearts career off the ground after joining from Dundee two years ago in a reported £180,000 deal.
Wighton said: “It’s been a tough couple of years and everyone knows that.
“The manager came in and said to me straight away that it’s down to me.
“I’ve worked hard over lockdown and he has shown a lot of faith in me so far, so I’ll be looking to repay that.
“It makes it a lot easier when a manager likes you, I had the opposite of that last season when the manager came in.
“If the previous manager was still here I probably would have had to look elsewhere. It’s these wee breaks in football you get.
“I’ve had a lot of criticism since I’ve been here but that’s always going to happen if you join a club for money and you don’t perform.
“It’s not something I try to look into. Sometimes it’s hard but the fans pay their money and at the end of the day they can say what they want.
“I’m just looking to try and prove people wrong. This is my last year here so I’m fighting for my future.”
With Boyce away with his country, Wighton, who has impressed in pre-season, is determined to make the most of the Betfred Cup group campaign ahead of the opening Championship match at home to Dundee on October 16.
He added: “Sometimes you need that wee bit of luck.
“I’m sure Boycie will want to get himself back in the team once he’s back here, so it’s good to have that competition.
“If you don’t hit the ground running, there’s competition for places all over the place in this squad.
“It’s been the longest most of us have not played. As good as it’s been playing pre-season games it’s completely different when the real stuff starts.”
Hearts manager Neilson, meanwhile, hopes the fans watching on from afar will be encouraged by what they see in their first game since losing that fateful match at St Mirren on March 11.
He said: “The players have been good and very receptive of what we want to do.
“There’s still a way to go with some things we want to do.
“We’ve had nine weeks training-wise and we still want to add one or two to the squad which will change the dynamic again.
“Player-wise, we’ve changed quite a bit and we’ve managed to freshen things up.
“If you look at the team that finished just before lock down, it’s totally different from the one that will start on Tuesday night.
“We’ve got that freshness and we’re going into a campaign where we’re expected to win every game and we want to start that against Inverness.”