Influential midfielder Don Cowie is battling to prove his fitness in time for Hearts’ showdown with Celtic tomorrow lunchtime.
The 33-year-old has become a key man since arriving at Tynecastle in January and has started each of his side’s last three matches.
However, his participation at Celtic Park is in doubt as he is still feeling the effects of the calf injury that forced him off after just 14 minutes of the 3-0 defeat at home to St Johnstone a fortnight ago.
Head coach Robbie Neilson is hopeful that the veteran will at least be fit enough to take a seat on the bench. “We’ll need to wait and see with Don,” he said. “We’re hopeful of having him back in the squad at least.”
Defenders Igor Rossi and Alim Ozturk are both set to return to the side after recent injury problems, but Callum Paterson, who is close to full fitness after a shoulder problem, is unlikely to play any part.
Meanwhile, Neilson is adamant that Billy King will be a Hearts player next season. The winger is on loan at Rangers after struggling to command regular game time at Tynecastle in the first half of the season. However, the Jambos head coach insists the 21-year-old, who has featured in seven of the Ibrox club’s 12 games since he moved there in January, is firmly in his plans for next term.
“He is definitely coming back in the summer,” said Neilson. “He definitely has a future here. He will be a big player for us next season, with European football and a bigger squad.
“He’ll be more established after six months playing regularly at Rangers, but I just felt, with the stage he was at, he needed game time. With the way we were playing, and Jamie Walker, Sam Nicholson and Dario Zanatta here, he needed more game time. The way Rangers play suits him down to a tee. He can get at people, play in front of big crowds, score goals and get his confidence up. I expect him to come back a better player.”
Neilson has urged back-up goalkeeper Jack Hamilton to remain patient as he strives to progress his career at Hearts. The highly-regarded Scotland Under-21 internationalist expressed frustration last weekend over his lack of first-team action thus far. Neil Alexander is the established No.1 at Tynecastle and as a result of the 38-year-old’s consistency, his 22-year-old understudy has been restricted to just seven first-team appearances in total and just two this season.
“I’ve had numerous conversations with Jack and I know he is desperate to play,” said Neilson. “He is a great kid and a great goalkeeper, but it is just the nature of playing in that position that you need to bide your time. If and when he does get into the first team then he will be Hearts’ goalkeeper for the next ten years and then someone will be waiting behind him.
“That’s just the way it is. It’s not like an outfield position where, for example, I could play a young centre-back at left-back or right-back. There is only one position and he needs to wait for it.
“I think he is potentially the natural successor to Neil. He is a good character and a good goalkeeper. He knows the club – we’ll see how the season progresses and if there’s an opportunity to put him in then we’ll look to do that.
“At this moment in time we can’t do anything with regards to loaning him out as we only have Neil and Jack. Come the summer, it’s something we might look at.”