ROBBIE NEILSON expects his Hearts players to thrive in their eagerly-awaited Premiership double-header against the big two of Aberdeen and Celtic.
The Tynecastle side host the table-topping Dons tomorrow and face the defending champions at Parkhead next Saturday – with Wednesday’s League Cup trip to face Gary Locke’s Kilmarnock sandwiched in between.
Neilson described it as a “big week”, but believes his team will not be burdened by pressure in the two league games because – despite losing their last two – they have already banked a decent tally of 15 points from a possible 21 since returning to the top flight.
“It’s a big week and I knew coming into the season that this week was coming and I knew we had seven games before but that this week was going to be key for us, not just in the league but in the cup,” said the head coach. “We go down to Kilmarnock on the Wednesday so we play Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday and they are three big games in six or seven days. It is a big week for us.
“I knew that we needed to get the points on the board coming into this and that takes the pressure off us a bit so hopefully we can go and put a performance on.”
Neilson believes his players will relish being involved in Scotland’s biggest game of the weekend at a sold-out Tynecastle after spending a season in the relatively low-key environment of the Championship.
“Players want to be involved in big games like this one, where there’s a big build-up,” said the head coach. “It’s different to last year when we were building up for games like Alloa away. It’s a whole new ball game for them.”
Neilson will make changes for tomorrow’s game after last week’s defeat at Inverness. Juwon Oshaniwa is suspended, so Igor Rossi is expected to shuffle across to left-back, with Blazej Augustyn fit to return to the heart of the defence following a month out after a hernia operation. Jamie Walker is also set to start despite being plagued by a niggling knee problem recently.
Miguel Pallardo is ready for action after recovering from an Achilles injury and could make his first appearance of the season depending on whether or not Morgaro Gomis is deemed ready to play following the death of his father eight days ago. The 30-year-old Senegalese had to pull out of the Inverness game after learning that his dad had passed away while on holiday in Africa. Gomis has spent the past week with his family in Paris and is expected to arrive back in Edinburgh today, with Neilson declaring that he will have no worries about restoring him to the team tomorrow.
“I expect to have Morgaro available,” he said. “He should be back in the country in time. It’s been a difficult time for him but it’s not a concern putting him straight in – he’s played over 400 games. He’s been in Paris trying to help his family out but he’s been training over there. If he comes back and feels ready for it, he’ll play.
“He’s a big player for us, the way he plays. You saw that last Friday when he had to pull out on the morning of the game. Ideally, I wouldn’t have had to give [17-year-old] Sean McKirdy his debut at a place like Inverness, but the squad is not huge. Although I thought McKirdy did well, not having Morgaro in there was a big loss to us.”