Hearts boss: We have options to cover loss of Sam Nicholson

Sam Nicholson has been ruled out for three months following knee surgery

Sam Nicholson has been ruled out for three months following knee surgery

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Robbie Neilson insists Hearts have enough options to cope with the loss of Sam Nicholson and does not anticipate any move to recruit a free-agent winger to provide cover.

The on-form 21-year-old is not expected to play until January at the earliest after undergoing surgery last week to fix an ongoing knee problem.

It leaves Jamie Walker, who has been afflicted by tendinitis recently, as the only established winger available for selection. Hearts are not thought to have an option to recall Billy King from his season-long loan with Inverness, but striker Robbie Muirhead made a big impact when he came off the bench to play wide left in Saturday’s win over Dundee, while teenage attacker Dario Zanatta, whose one-month emergency loan at Queen’s Park is due to expire ahead of next Wednesday’s trip to Kilmarnock, can also play as a winger. In addition, out-of-favour left-back Juwon Oshaniwa is viewed as an option for a more advanced role.

Neilson had spoken earlier in the season of a desire to recruit another winger, but he explained that a dearth of suitable options means Hearts are unlikely to get one on board, even in light of Nicholson’s injury.

“There aren’t many free-agent wingers about,” the head coach told the Evening News. “We’ve been looking but at this period, there’s not really a lot out there. We’ll see where we are in January but we’re expecting Nicholson back in January anyway. I’m more than happy with what I’ve got. We’ve got good enough quality to cover us. We can look at the situation with Zanatta and I’ve also got Oshaniwa, who I can use there.”

Neilson paid tribute to Muirhead for his impact on Saturday, but is reluctant to view the powerful 20-year-old, who is predominantly a centre-forward, as a ready-made replacement for Nicholson. “We put Muirhead out on the left on Saturday, which is not his preferred position but we know he can play there,” said Neilson. “Sam’s injury has given him an opportunity to come in and play although he won’t necessarily be used out wide all the time. He’s predominantly a striker and, although we put him wide, we knew we had the option to put him through the middle if we wanted to flip it to 4-4-2. As well as playing up front, he can play left, right or as a No.10. For a young kid, he’s got quality.”