Exclusive: ´I've not been 100 per cent but feel in a good place now', says Hearts winger Gary Mackay-Steven

The 31-year-old was something of a surprise selection against St Mirren on Saturday, but scored the crucial opening goal before being replaced after just over an hour.

Exclusive: ´I’ve not been 100 per cent but feel in a good place now', says Hearts winger Gary Mackay-Steven
© Gary Mackay-Steven says he needs to build his match sharpness after a few niggles but is now in a ‘g…

He is now hoping for more game time to get up to speed again after being a regular starter at the start of the campaign.

“I’ve not been 100 per cent, but I’ve been taken good care of and I feel in a good place now,” he told the Edinburgh Evening News ahead of Thursday’s cinch Premiership visit to Celtic.

“It is just about building my fitness up through games, working hard in training and showing what I can do when I get the chance.”

He did that on Saturday just when it was needed, slotting home when a low cross deflected into his path to break the deadlock on the hour – just before being replaced by Josh Ginnelly.

READ MORE: How Stephen Kingsley free-kicks have become a lethal weapon for Hearts

Signed in January from New York City, MacKay-Steven started the first 11 competitive games of this season in a row, but has done so only once – away to Aberdeen – since then.

That is partly down to increased competition for places, following the signings of Ben Woodburn and Barrie McKay. But it also down to MacKay-Steven’s own niggles.

He’s not actually played a full 90 minutes for Hearts since the team’s last visit to Celtic Park – a 3-2 defeat in the Premier Sports Cup on August 15.

Since mid-September, the former Dundee United, Celtic and Aberdeen forward has been used mainly as an impact sub by head coach Robbie Neilson.

“I haven’t been training fully, with having a few knocks,” explained Mackay-Steven. “It was important to get some minutes [against St Mirren] and I was probably done at 60 minutes.

“But building up, we’ve got a lot of games and a strong squad. We need to use everyone and that will do me great going forward. We have a midweek and weekend game coming up. All the match minutes help, so I’m looking forward now.”

Exclusive: ´I’ve not been 100 per cent but feel in a good place now', says Hearts winger Gary Mackay-Steven
© Gary Mackay-Steven. Picture: Mark Scates / SNS

MacKay-Steven started and scored in the opening-day Premiership victory over Celtic at Tynecastle Park in July and hopes he’s done enough to be in contention to face his former club again in the reverse fixture on Thursday.

But with Liam Boyce now back from injury, competition for places at the top end of the pitch is fierce.

MacKay-Steven is essentially competing with Woodburn, McKay and Ginnelly for the two supporting forward positions Neilson prefers in his 3-4-3 formation, with Armand Armand Gnanduillet a back-up for Boyce as the advanced striker. A fully-fit Jamie Walker didn’t even make the bench on Saturday and appears to have fallen well down the pecking order.

Exclusive: ´I’ve not been 100 per cent but feel in a good place now', says Hearts winger Gary Mackay-Steven
© Gary Mackay-Steven knows there is competition for places in attack and he needs to make an impressio…

MacKay-Steven added: “When we have a fully-fit squad, giving the manager a head ache is great. Training is competitive. We know that no matter who comes in, they can do a job and do it well.

“Every player wants to play and I’m no different. Hopefully I can keep it going and get the minutes under the belt and get the fitness and match sharpness up, which comes through games. It won’t take me long.”

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