Fitness boost for Hearts’ cup clash

Andy Driver

Andy Driver

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STEPHEN ELLIOTT, Mehdi Taouil and Andy Driver are fit and available for Hearts’ Scottish Cup tie with St Johnstone this weekend, while Danny Grainger also has a chance of facing his former club.

Striker Elliott is expected to start after overcoming a hamstring strain, the same problem which sidelined Taouil recently. Driver has recovered from a thigh problem and Grainger’s groin injury is improving. If the full-back fails to play on Sunday, he should be available when Celtic visit Tynecastle on league business on Wednesday.

The recovery of Elliott will be crucial for Hearts manager Paulo Sergio since John Sutton’s loan move to Central Coast Mariners leaves the Portuguese short on attacking options.

The Irishman was withdrawn 19 minutes into the 1-0 defeat at Inverness two weeks ago with a strained hamstring. With Hearts inactive last weekend, he had sufficient time to recover and has trained this week with the rest of the first-team squad.

Speaking to the Evening News today, he declared himself fit. “I had a slight hamstring strain, but it was a precaution me coming off against Inverness,” he said.

“I’d felt it in the previous few weeks and I felt it again early in the Inverness game. It wasn’t getting any easier so I decided to come off to make sure it didn’t get any worse. I’ve trained this week and it’s feeling okay. Touch wood, I’m ready to go this weekend.”

Meanwhile, Sergio said he is relieved that the transfer window in Europe has closed – but he is still wary that clubs from further afield could move for his players. He said: “I am happy the window is closed in Europe but there are still things moving in Russia and China and other countries.

“I told my players that anyone who wants to move should do a very good job for the team and things will happen naturally.”

Sergio says the exit of former academy pair Conrad Balatoni and Rob Ogleby earlier this week will mean opportunities for more young talent to progress towards the first-team. “I wish them all the best,” he said. “They have stayed a few years at Hearts and I believe they didn’t improve enough to be first-team players. We have to open spaces to other ones.”

The Hearts manager, whose side haven’t had a game for a fortnight, are fresh for Sunday’s revenge mission against a St Johnstone side who have beaten them twice already this term.

Sergio said: “We took some rest and started our work for the next game, a tough cup game. St Johnstone are a good team and they are doing very well.

“They beat us twice this season, so I believe it’s time that we have to show our pride and our quality in this game to go on in this competition. The Hearts supporters will play an important role this weekend. They have been fantastic with us since the beginning of the season.”

n Tickets are available for Sunday’s Scottish Cup tie against St Johnstone from Hearts’ Clubstore, online at heartsfc.co.uk or by calling 0871 663 1874 and cost £20 for Adults, £15 for over 65s/students, £10 for under-18s and £5 for under-12s when bought before match day. Fans who order tickets on the day of the game will have to pay £20 per person.