Uche Ikpeazu has vowed that he and Hearts will be a force to be reckoned with next season after coming close to ending a turbulent season on a high.
Ikpeazu’s fortunes have mirrored that of his team. The powerful forward made a major impact as Hearts led the Ladbrokes Premiership in the early stages but, like so many of his team-mates, he suffered an injury that forced him out for a lengthy period.
The former Cambridge player missed the best part of five months with a foot injury and felt he never really got back up to speed after returning in February.
A frustrating finale followed as a hamstring problem restricted the striker to a late substitute’s appearance in the William Hill Scottish Cup final on Saturday and Odsonne Edouard netted Celtic’s winner soon after he came off the bench.
But he believes coming so close to success despite their obstacles will drive him and his team-mates on.
The 24-year-old said: “I’m not going to lie, I haven’t felt right since I came back from my injury. It’s been more of a case of getting through games.
“But I believe in myself. When I get myself right for next season, I’m going to be a force and so are the rest of the lads.
“That’s what I am looking forward to doing. We lost the game, that’s in the past now. It’s about moving forward now.”
Ikpeazu netted one of his eight Hearts goals in the semi-final win over Inverness and will take the positives from their run, which ended with a 2-1 defeat after Ryan Edwards put them ahead.
“You don’t get many opportunities to play in a final, especially down south,” he said. “So to get to a final is an achievement in itself for me and my team-mates.
“Ryan has worked so hard and credit to him, he has got his goal in a cup final after not playing much this season. So when he scored I thought it was written in the stars he was going to win it for us.
“I thought we maybe deserved to win the game but it wasn’t meant to be.
“Obviously we wanted to go all the way, it hasn’t happened. But it’s a good experience and I think it’s an experience that will hold me in good stead.
“I believe that this group of lads – I said it at the beginning of the season – they have something special.
“It wasn’t meant to be on Saturday but there’s loads to look forward to.”
Ikpeazu had no complaints about not starting with Steven MacLean getting the nod up front.
“My hamstring hasn’t been fully right and the gaffer made the right decision putting me on the bench,” he said.
“Initially I thought I might start but last week I was really struggling to make the game and I did everything I could. Macca was brilliant for us and he has been brilliant for us all season.”
Ikpeazu refused to go into detail over what happened with Scott Brown after the final whistle.
The Celtic captain was booked for comments made to Ikpeazu, moments after the pair had been involved in a strong tackle.
“It’s irrelevant now, there is no point in me answering the question,” Ikpeazu said. “Scott Brown is Scott Brown.
“I don’t want to go over it. He knows what he did, so I’m not going to go over it. Credit to them, they won the treble treble.”