Hearts boss has defensive conundrum

Kevin McHattie, left, scored against Raith
Kevin McHattie, left, scored against Raith
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Robbie Neilson admits he faces a difficult decision over Hearts’ left-back tomorrow after Kevin McHattie’s impressive recovery from injury.

The 21-year-old scored on his return from a four-month absence against Raith Rovers on Tuesday night as fellow left-back Adam Eckersley sat on the substitutes’ bench.

Eckersley has played 23 times for Hearts this season while McHattie has been restricted to 11 appearances so far, mainly because of injury. A reckless tackle by Rangers’ Kenny Miller damaged his medial knee ligaments in November but he is now fit and eager to play a part in Hearts’ quest to win the Scottish Championship.

A win at Falkirk tomorrow could be enough to secure the title for Hearts if Hibs fail to beat Rangers on Sunday. Head coach Neilson said he is happy to ponder the conundrum over whether to select McHattie or Eckersley for such a vital match.

“That’s what I want. I want to have to make decisions,” he told the Evening News. “The reason I put Kevin in on Tuesday was because he’s been out for a long time and Adam has played a lot of games. You just never know with players. If Adam picks up an injury and Kev hasn’t played for a while then it’s difficult. It’s important everyone stays fit and ready to go. For example, Brad McKay was in the squad on Tuesday night but didn’t make the bench. I know if I need him, he’s ready. He’s fit, ready and his mentality is great. We have a squad of 20 now who can all play whenever they’re required.”

One player Neilson has asked to stay patient is recent signing Kenny Anderson. The Dutch midfielder has managed only one start and three substitute appearances since joining Hearts on an 18-month contract last month. Neilson is content to let him find his feet.

“It’s difficult. Kenny realises he’s come to a club where there are a lot of players in his position and a lot of good quality,” he explained. “Kenny has great ability and he’s here for next season as well. He just has to be patient at the moment. He will play a part. We brought him in because we know he’s a good player but it can be difficult to pick some players for some of the teams we’re playing against.

“The way Kenny plays and the position he plays, it’s difficult to get him into a 4-4-2 formation. It often needs to be 4-2-3-1 and at times we don’t play that so it can be difficult. He’s a good guy and he understands. He works hard and he knows the situation.”