Hearts midfielder Perry Kitchen out of Birkirkara clash

Perry Kitchen strained his hamstring during the first half in Malta
Perry Kitchen strained his hamstring during the first half in Malta
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Perry Kitchen is out of Hearts’ Europa League qualifying return leg against Birkirkara.

A scan on the midfielder’s hamstring confirmed a strain which sidelines him for Thursday’s tie at Tynecastle.

The injury is not thought to be serious at this stage but he will not be rushed into a comeback. Medical staff at Riccarton are working to help him recover in time for the next stage of Europa League qualifying against Krasnodar, should Hearts progress.

The Edinburgh club will face the Russians in the third qualifying round provided they beat Birkirkara, who held them to a 0-0 draw in Malta last week. Kitchen was forced off after 30 minutes of that match after feeling the hamstring injury, and must now watch the second leg from the stand.

“Perry’s got a slight strain on the tendon so he’s going to be struggling for Thursday. I don’t think he’ll make it,” admitted head coach Robbie Neilson. “He’s tweaked it a little so we need to be careful with him and make sure we don’t rush it. He shouldn’t be out for too long. I’d definitely want to have him back for the next round if we make it through.”

Neilson admitted he has barely looked at Krasnodar since Friday’s draw paired them with the winners of the Hearts-Birkirkara tie. All the focus at Riccarton this week is on negotiating a way past the Maltese side.

“It’s a tough tie against Krasnodar but I’ve not even started looking at it,” said Neilson. “You see the draw and you get a quick look at them to see what they’re like. They’re a good team but Birkirkara is the main one for us. We want to make sure we get through that. We can’t afford to waste too much time looking ahead.

“It’s going to be very difficult to beat Birkirkara. They’ll come here and sit in, they’ll frustrate it and make it difficult. It’s important everyone understands that all these European games are different. The game won’t be hugely open.

“They will kill it, try to nullify the crowd and stifle us so we need to be patient. If we can do that, I think our quality will come through. We’ll take care of this one and then we can start building up after that if we make it.”