Esmael Goncalves is pushing for a return to Hearts’ starting line-up after scoring at Celtic Park last weekend.
The Portuguese striker has impressed interim head coach Jon Daly with his attitude after being left on the bench in Glasgow.
Goncalves could now find himself reinstated for this week’s visit to Kilmarnock – the second of four consecutive away matches for Hearts at the start of the new season.
Daly plans to use Goncalves in a central position, either as a second striker in a No.10 role or up front beside fellow forward Kyle Lafferty. Scoring Hearts’ consolation in the 4-1 defeat by Celtic has put him in contention to start at Rugby Park.
“Isma does indeed give us a decision to make,” Daly told the Evening News. “He came off the bench because, with our gameplan for Celtic Park, it probably wasn’t suited to him starting. I spoke to him about that. We were planning to bring on some firepower at 60 or 65 minutes if we’d held the score at 1-0. After that, we could have had a go.
“Once the game was gone at 4-0 we still kept working and creating chances, which is why we got our goal. I was pleased to see Isma get it because he did well when he came on.
“I think playing down the middle is Isma’s best position. Whether it’s as a No.10 or right up top, if you can get him in the middle then he’s a powerful player. If we can get balls into his feet he can hold it up and give us runners off him.
“Once he gets turned, as you saw for his goal on Saturday, he’s difficult to catch because he’s so strong. I see him as a central player, maybe occasionally drifting wide.”
John Souttar is also close to returning to the starting line-up. The young centre-back was an unused substitute at Celtic Park but has worked on his fitness after returning from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon.
“John has trained well so we’ll monitor him ahead of the weekend,” added Daly. “He’s a big player for the club and a great asset with his passing ability. John is in contention this week.”
Daly is expected to remain in temporary charge of Hearts alongside fellow coaches Austin MacPhee and Liam Fox until at least next week. He is keen to focus on positives after facing Celtic.
“The boys have to try and hold their heads up high and take the positives,” he stressed. “I thought the work-rate, the application, the effort – stuff which should be a given – was there. That was proved at the end of the game when the fans were clapping the players off after a 4-1 defeat.
“That was a positive because I’ve not seen that in the players for a while. We’ve looked back at the game and shown the boys that if you can defend, keep shape and discipline and cut out individual errors, then you give yourself a chance. Celtic are a very good team and if one person switches off you can get hurt.
“We need to focus on the next game, which is Kilmarnock now. It’s going to be tough there on the astroturf pitch and they lost at the weekend too, so they’ll be looking to bounce back from that.”