Sam Nicholson reveals that he wants to play for Hearts again as Bristol Rovers prepare for FA Cup tie against Sheffield United
Excitement is building in Sam Nicholson’s newly-purchased Bristol home. Different challenges in life and football don’t faze him, but the week ahead is pretty major stuff.
Tomorrow he faces English Premier League opposition in the FA Cup third round when his club, Bristol Rovers, host Sheffield United. On Wednesday, he learns whether his first child will be a boy or girl.
Demands on the 25-year-old from Penicuik are heavy just now but he is loving the intensity of a new life in England. It shows on the pitch with some raking goals in the blue and white of ‘The Gas’.
There are no regrets about rejecting Hearts last summer after leaving Colorado Rapids, although he wants a return to Tynecastle Park before his playing career is over.
For now, there is enough to deal with. Sheffield United visit the Memorial Stadium tomorrow live on BT Sport as Nicholson and his League One team-mates aim to execute one of those long-recalled cup upsets.
Change of position
Then it’s a hospital appointment with partner Teigan next week to find out the sex of their child, due to be born this summer. Nicholson speaks with contentment about living and playing in England’s south west. Even a change of position from winger to striker hasn’t flustered him.
“I’ve got a house down here now and my missus is pregnant. We find out if we’re having a boy or a girl next week,” he told the Evening News.
“I’m pretty settled and that definitely helps on the pitch. It didn’t take too long but our old gaffer [Ben Garner] got sacked and we now have a new manager, Paul Tisdale. He has played me at every opportunity and seems to like me.
“I’m actually playing up top just now. I played up front and on the wing at youth level for Hearts so it’s not totally new. We play with two up top, so the ball goes into the other striker, Brandon Hanlan, and he holds it. I just run off him and try to get into pockets of space.
“Brandon is really good. He is really strong and a lot of defenders are focused on him more than me. That allows me to get on the ball.”
Six goals in his last 13 games indicate Nicholson is making a decent fist of the forward role. “Games can sometimes pass you by out on the wing. Being more central is allowing me to get more involved, which is what I want.
“I still think I could score more but I’m getting those opportunities. I think everyone is just a bit surprised I’m playing up front.”
Not as surprised as some when he refused the chance to play at Tynecastle Park again. Nicholson has supported Hearts since childhood and spent four years in their first team. He just didn’t feel ready for another swim in the Edinburgh goldfish bowl as a local lad playing for one of the two city clubs.
“That was a hard decision because it’s was about my heart and not my head,” he admitted. “It was something close to me as a fan having spent so many years there. I just wasn’t ready to go home and live in Edinburgh again with the stuff I went through before.
‘I still love Hearts’
“I’d played in the Scottish Championship before and I wanted to try a different league. I’m lucky to have played in a couple of leagues and I’m enjoying it here. I don’t have any regrets.
“That’s no disrespect to Hearts. I still love Hearts and watch as many games as I can.”
Talks with manager Robbie Neilson became public during the summer, adding to the pressure on Nicholson as he pondered his future.
“It was hard because, growing up, the majority of my friends were Hearts and Hibs fans. I had half of them saying ‘come back’ and the other half saying ‘don’t you dare’,” he laughed.
“I was getting messages from Hearts fans and I still get nice messages now. I hold them very close. I know some fans didn’t like my decision to come here but everyone has a different opinion.
“It was difficult to say ‘no’ to such a big club, a big club that my whole family love. I just don’t think it was the right time to go back.
Should his career pan out as hoped, there will be time for another stint in maroon. “Definitely. It was a dream of mine to play for Hearts. Once I left, there were times when I’d think: ‘I really miss it.’ That’s all I knew when I was younger. Playing for Hearts and winning was just the best thing ever.
“It’s definitely something I would like to experience again if they would have me. Hopefully one day. Right now, I’m enjoying Bristol Rovers, playing in England and living here. I like the intensity here compared to America.”
Bristol Rovers sit 18th in League One and hanker after a play-off place. With three games in hand they have a realistic opportunity, although tomorrow’s focus is on a possible cup knockout.
Sheffield United are bottom of the Premier League with only two points and eight goals from 17 matches. They will be wary of visiting a team two leagues below. It is the kind of cup tie made for fans to cram into a tight lower-league ground and generating a hostile atmosphere for illustrious guests.
“It would be brilliant to have them but it is what it is with most of the country in lockdown,” said Nicholson. “This is a massive game for us, a chance to knock out a big club and get ourselves recognised. People around the world know the FA Cup is one of the biggest tournaments.
“Sheffield United maybe haven’t been great in the Premier League but they’re still two divisions above us. We tend to play better against better teams. It will be tough but stranger things have happened.”