Hearts boss has a dilemma over goalscorers

Gary Oliver wheels away in celebration as he puts Hearts ahead. Pic: SNS
Gary Oliver wheels away in celebration as he puts Hearts ahead. Pic: SNS
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Robbie Neilson is facing an attacking dilemma at Hearts but today the head coach welcomed the prospect of choosing from four fully-fit forwards.

Gary Oliver and James Keatings are in goalscoring form, Osman Sow is free from suspension and Soufian El Hassnaoui is now available after injury.

Oliver and Keatings have scored five of Hearts’ last six goals after Oliver struck in last night’s 2-1 win at Stenhousemuir in the League Cup second round. Sow has already signalled his potential with the winner against Rangers, and having El Hassnaoui fit after groin surgery is an added bonus for Neilson.

The Moroccan was one of Hearts’ substitutes at Ochilview but circumstances denied him the chance of a debut. Both Jordan McGhee and Keatings suffered minor injuries and were replaced, but Neilson insisted El Hassnaoui would soon play his part.

“It’s a good dilemma to have when you’ve got four or five guys who are on form,” said the head coach today. “El Hassnaoui has been training and I was hoping to get him on at some point last night. Things didn’t work out that way. We got a couple of injuries early on and used two subs so we had to keep one in case we got another injury.

“Soufian is still a wee bit away. I was hoping to give him 20 minutes last night because he still needs game time, whether that be in the under-20s or in the first team. He’s getting there.

“His fitness is fine and he’s got no problems. It’s just about getting him fit now because he’s over his injury and moving well. He will build his match fitness and try to get himself in the team.”

Oliver’s opener was supplemented when Kevin McHattie made it 2-0 for Hearts before Kieran Miller reduced the deficit. “I thought Gary took his goal really well,” said Neilson. “We should have scored more goals but we got into good positions to score. On another day, we would probably have scored five or six.

“It was a potentially tricky tie. Stenhousemuir is a difficult place to go. It’s on the astroturf and at the start it was a bit sticky. Then it got a bit wet with the dew at night and it became a bit slippy. We were dealing with that.

“The atmosphere was good, the fans were great and we got the result at the end. It’s great for the younger guys to play again. I thought Liam Smith did very well, Liam Gordon got on and played so it will help them getting some game time. Other guys who haven’t played much recently also got a run.

“We’re going to need all the squad this year. Some guys will come in and play here or there, others will come in and play six, seven or eight games. It’s about using the whole squad.”