Hearts will be boosted by the return of key defenders Igor Rossi and Alim Ozturk for this Saturday’s Premiership clash with leaders Celtic.
However, right-back Callum Paterson, who has been sidelined by a shoulder injury, is unlikely to be fit enough for involvement at Parkhead.
Rossi, who has predominantly played at left-back recently, sat out Hearts’ last two matches with a groin problem, while captain Ozturk missed the 3-0 defeat by St Johnstone a week past Saturday with a groin problem.
Both players were expected to be involved in full training as the squad returned to Riccarton today following a few days off during the international break. “Rossi should be fine for Saturday,” head coach Robbie Neilson told the Evening News. “He’ll be back training this week. Ozturk will also be fine – he trained for a bit last week. I’d expect both of them to be involved on Saturday.”
Paterson has missed the last four games since tearing a shoulder ligament following an awkward fall in the home win over Kilmarnock at the end of February. This weekend’s trip to Parkhead had initially been pencilled in as a target for the 21-year-old’s return, but he is now likely to have to wait for the trip to Inverness next Tuesday or the home game against Aberdeen on Friday week. “Callum’s progressing well and he’s been doing a bit of running but I don’t think he’ll make the Celtic game,” said Neilson. “We’re hopeful of having him for the Inverness game, but if not, he’ll definitely be ready for Aberdeen.”
Paterson’s absence means Hearts are likely to head to Parkhead with at least two teenagers in their defence. The 19-year-old trio of John Souttar, Jordan McGhee and Liam Smith – all in the Scotland Under-21 squad for tonight’s match against Northern Ireland – featured prominently as the Tynecastle side kept four consecutive clean sheets prior to losing to St Johnstone.
Although the more experienced Blazej Augustyn and Juwon Oshaniwa, who have struggled to command game time lately, will also be available for selection this weekend, Neilson insists he has no concerns about fielding his young defenders away to the league leaders.
“The teenagers have done really well, so it’s a good problem to have,” said the head coach. “The fact three of them are teenagers won’t come into my thinking. They’ve all played in big games. Liam Smith’s the least experienced but he’s done very well since he came in and he’s very level-headed, so age won’t be an issue.”