ROBBIE NEILSON is confident that Sam Nicholson is both mentally and physically ready to face Livingston today, a week after being on the receiving end of a horror challenge from Lions skipper Jason Talbot.
The Hearts winger was forced off just before the break in last Saturday’s 3-2 win at the Energy Assets Arena after the Livi defender floored him with a high boot. Nicholson required stitches in his face after being scarred by Talbot’s studs.
Neilson, however, believes the 20-year-old is equipped to return to the fray today.
“Sam is fine,” said the head coach. “He has trained all week and is fine. It’s up to Sam to get his confidence back and we’ve got to try to help him.
“When you suffer an injury like that, then the next time you go into that situation, it will be at the back of your mind. But that’s football. You get a bad tackle, you deal with it. This will make him stronger. He’s fine in himself, he’s ready to play and ready to move on.”
Talbot was hit with a two-match retrospective ban by compliance officer Tony McGlennan after being shown only a yellow card by match referee Brian Colvin. Neilson felt action had to be taken over an incident which had gained widespread infamy over the past week.
“I think it was the right thing, the compliance officer getting involved,” said Neilson. “It was a reckless challenge and, with it getting on social media, it was put out all over the world – and that reflected badly on the Scottish game.
“It was important that it was dealt with, it’s done and we move on with it. The boy apologised as well, he’s made a mistake, as we all do, and we’ve moved on. Life nowadays, with social media, you do something and it’s out there forever. I’m sure Jason regrets it because he’s made an error of judgement and it could stick with him for a long time.”
There were eight bookings and a red card in last week’s clash, but Neilson expects a tamer affair in today’s Tynecastle rematch. “I don’t think it’ll be as niggly,” he said. “You’ll probably find that it’s a softer game.
“People will be wary of putting challenges in and the referee will probably be looking to clamp down on it, as well, so I don’t expect the same physicality.”
Neilson is likely to tweak his team today in order to give Livingston something fresh to contend with. “It is strange playing Livi again so quickly but it was scheduled for midweek because of the Petrofac final and, with already having Alloa in midweek, we thought we would get it on a Saturday.
“It gives our fans a chance to go to games on back-to-back Saturdays, as opposed to missing a week and then coming to a Wednesday game.
“We’ll change things against Livi because we need to keep finding different ways to break teams down.”
Neilson admits Hearts’ performance levels have dipped lately. However, the head coach is unfazed, as he believes that most teams find the going a touch tougher during the winner months.
“We spoke about [performance levels] on Thursday,” he said. “The standard in all our football at this time of the year is dipping. It dips through January and February, especially in Britain.
“The surfaces aren’t great. It’s dark when you get up in the morning and dark when you go home at night. The weather is not great, it’s blowing a gale.
“The hardest thing to do is go out and train hard. We’ve managed to keep doing that. You’ll find a lot of teams who don’t bother doing it, they think: ‘We’ll take the easy option and have a day in the pool or on the bike.’
“You can’t do that and improve. You’ve got to keep training through. It started to get brighter on Thursday, it was nice and sunny – and we saw the energy coming back into things.”