Andraz Struna and Don Cowie are major injury doubts for Hearts ahead of Sunday’s trip to Celtic.
Krystian Nowak is effectively ruled out, whilst the recently-returned Sam Nicholson is lacking match sharpness.
Despite the fitness concerns, head coach Ian Cathro stressed his players will not travel to Parkhead for a ritual slaying. He is determined to attack Celtic and try to prevent them breaking Jock Stein’s 50-year record by going 27 domestic games without defeat.
Right-back Struna was substituted prior to extra time in Wednesday’s Scottish Cup replay win over Raith Rovers due to pain in his foot. He hadn’t played competitively for nine months before his debut at Stark’s Park last weekend. He may not be risked in Glasgow.
Midfielder Cowie has a tight muscle and is being monitored but defensive midfielder Nowak is likely to be ruled out by a leg strain. Both missed the midweek triumph over Raith.
“Krystian will probably miss out. We’re managing Don step by step,” Cathro told the Evening News. “It’s difficult for Andraz having gone a long time without playing and then played two intense games in a short period.
“We need to make the right decision for him on maybe a longer-term basis than just this weekend. There’s a doubt there but I’m pretty sure that, if at all possible, he’ll be quite keen to be on the pitch. We need to do the right thing by Sam, too, and the team and be gradual about how he gets more minutes.”
Asked about Celtic’s dominance this season, Cathro responded defiantly. “We’ve got no intention of being lambs to the slaughter,” he replied. “If you want to win, you have to score. If you want to score, you have to attack. If you want to attack, you need to have the ball. I don’t see any reason why we need to feel differently about that. Is it going to be more difficult? Yes, it is. It’s a better opponent – the best opponent in the country. All the work that has taken place there is excellent and it’s great to have in our country. That doesn’t mean I’m just going to sit and take it.”
The head coach is seeking his third win from his eighth match in charge of Hearts. He expects adrenaline to help his players inside one of Scotland’s most atmospheric stadiums.
“It adds an extra little spark on things,” he said. “You can never deny that that’s the case. If anybody was needing an additional push, which I don’t think they are, then yes it’s a factor.”
Cathro remains reluctant to publicly discuss Hearts’ pursuit of the Anorthosis Famagusta forward Esmael Goncalves. A fee of £175,000 has been discussed with the Cypriot outfit, who have passed details of the Edinburgh club’s bid to lawyers to scrutinise. Provided there are no issues, the deal should be completed by the start of next week at the latest. However, Anorthosis are adamant that Goncalves will play for them one last time in today’s league match against Ermis – and then head to Scotland.