Craig Wighton delighted to get monkey off his back after Hearts hat-trick

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HEARTS forward Craig Wighton admits an enormous weight has been lifted from his shoulders after finally breaking his frustrating goal duck.

Wighton, 23, had failed to find the net in the two years and two months since joining the Jambos from Dundee prior to Wednesday’s visit of Raith Rovers, albeit he had only made 24 appearances in that time.

And there was a visible sense of catharsis when he confidently slammed home his penalty to open the scoring against the Fifers. While Rovers lamented the contentious award of the spot-kick, a relieved Wighton celebrated.

Craig Wighton celebrates his first Jambos hat-trick | Hearts news
Wighton walked away with the match ball (Pic: Twitter, @jamtarts)

It would be no exaggeration to say Wighton looked a different player after that strike. Within minutes he had turned Fernandy Mendy inside out and forced a super near-post save from Jamie MacDonald.

Another successfully converted penalty then followed, before Wighton ensured he would walk away with a match ball to cherish with a sensational solo goal in the dying embers.

“It’s been frustrating for me at times here,” smiled Wighton ruefully. “I think everybody knows that. But I’ve finally got off the mark and to get three – well, it’ll do me the world of good.

“That first Hearts goal has been on my mind. I’ve had a few chances to score since I’ve been here and I hadn’t done it, so hopefully I can really kick on now.”

Wighton has rarely displayed the swagger and confidence that his natural talent would seem to merit during his underwhelming spell at Hearts, not helped by becoming something of a target for disgruntled fans.

However, at an empty Tynecastle – and one might suggest that dearth of passionate punters will aid his progress – he was direct, tricky and clinical.

“I want to prove people wrong and I want to show the fans what I can do,” said a determined Wighton. “I’ve not really done that yet. But this is just a start.”

Such was Wighton’s impact for a much-changed Hearts side, Robbie Neilson confessed that he had been given serious food for thought ahead of Friday’s Championship opener against Dundee.

Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson | Hearts news
Impressed: Hearts boss Robbie Neilson

That is quite the compliment given Liam Boyce’s domestic and international pedigree, which seems to guarantee a prolific return at this level.

“Whether I’ve done enough [to start] be up to the manager,” continued Wighton. “But it’s a short season with a lot of games coming up, so I think boys will rotate a lot this year.

“So it’s up to you to do enough to stay in the team when you get a chance. Hopefully, I’ve done that – but, if not, I’ll be ready to come into the team when I’m needed.”

A starting berth against Dundee would be a fitting reward for a striker who cut his teeth in Dark Blue after coming through the youth ranks at Dens, and who still commands cult hero status as the man who relegated Dundee United.

Moreover, he has plenty of pals who are of a Dee persuasion – albeit even they acknowledge that Hearts should walk away with the title this term.

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“A lot of my mates are Dundee fans – but everyone thinks Hearts are the favourites, and so we should be,” continued Wighton.

“But I’ve played plenty of games in that league and if we don’t work hard, if we don’t go out there and play to the best of our ability, then teams will take points off us.

“It’s up to us to get off to a good start. There are only 27 games so it’s up to us to hit the ground running and put in dominant performances. Anybody that comes here should know they are in for a game.”

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