PERRY KITCHEN returns to Riccarton tomorrow and will instantly be pitched into Hearts’ squad for Thursday’s Europa League qualifier against FC Infonet.
The American midfielder has spent the last month on international duty at the Copa America, but Hearts coach Robbie Neilson has no concerns about playing him in a European tie.
Kitchen didn’t feature in any of the USA’s six Copa games as national coach Jurgen Klinsmann kept him as an unused substitute. Neilson is adamant the player will therefore be fresh to face the Estonians despite some gruelling travelling.
“Perry will arrive back on Wednesday and he’ll go straight into the squad. I’ve no fears about fatigue or anything with him,” Neilson told the Evening News. “He’s travelled a lot, which he’s used to from playing in the MLS, although he didn’t play in the Copa America. You have to travel a lot in that league and you’re away for long periods of time. Long flights aren’t an issue for Perry, he’s used to it, so he’ll be in the squad for Thursday.”
The first leg of the Europa League first qualifying round also marks the beginning of Jack Hamilton’s career as Hearts’ first-choice goalkeeper. He has succeeded Neil Alexander and been given the full backing of the coaching staff.
“We’ve got faith in him, that’s why we’ve made him the No.1,” said Neilson. “We’ve got no issues putting him in at all. We’re here to develop players and that means giving people opportunities.
“We’ll give Jack an opportunity because we believe in him. We think he’s at a level now where he can go and play. Callum Paterson was at that point a few years ago, as was Sam Nicholson two years ago, and Dario Zanatta and Liam Smith are there at the moment.
“There comes a point where you have to play these boys and I just felt the time was right for Jack. He’s reached the stage where he’s good enough to be the No.1 here. He’s been looking great in training, it’s a new season and a new challenge for him.”
Neilson has all but settled on his starting line-up for Thursday and is confident his players can secure a lead for next week’s return leg in Tallinn. “I’ve got an idea of the team at the moment. We have a strong squad but it’s about picking a team that will go and win the game. I’m pretty confident we’ve got enough to do it,” he continued.
Infonet are second in Estonia’s Meistriliiga and have won their last six league matches. They have time off from their domestic schedule to ensure they are fully ready for Europe, making them difficult for Hearts to scout.
“They’re in the middle of their season but the league have given them ten days off to prepare for these games against us,” explained Neilson. “They give their teams time off to prepare for these games because they know it’s the best possibility for them to progress and get the country’s co-efficient up.
“It makes it quite hard for teams who are in pre-season at the moment. You’re coming up against a team in competitive football who have been given a break to get ready. We haven’t been able to watch them live because they’ve had time off, but we’ve got footage of them and seen games online, so we’re well prepared.
“They are an experienced team with a lot of older players - guys in their early 30s who have played at international level. They are pretty dominant in their league so they will come here with confidence. I expect them to make it tough for us to break them down.”