Soufian El Hassnaoui ‘struggling for form and fitness’

Soufian El Hassnaoui hasn't featured for the first team this season
Soufian El Hassnaoui hasn't featured for the first team this season
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Soufian El Hassnaoui is struggling for form and fitness and faces a fight to revive his Hearts career after injury.

Management have told the Dutch striker he must play more consistently in the SPFL Development League before he will be considered for a first-team return. El Hassnaoui hasn’t featured at all this season due to a torn cruciate ligament followed by a groin problem. He has recovered from both injuries but is short of fitness and will play more for Hearts Under-20s to improve his form.

Head coach Robbie Neilson reported today that the 26-year-old – under contract until summer 2017 – may be ready for a first-team comeback by the end of the month.

“He’s kind of struggling to get his form back and his fitness back at the moment. He just has to keep working hard and try to get an opportunity,” Neilson told the Evening News. “I expect him to play some more under-20 games first. He missed one last week. We’ll just keep building him up and building him up and try to get him to a level where he can get himself into the team. It might be the end of the month before he’s ready.”

Meanwhile, Hearts have drafted Under-20s quartet Liam Smith, Robbie Buchanan, Daniel Baur and Russell McLean into the squad for tomorrow night’s Premiership clash at Ross County. Neilson is without the suspended Igor Rossi, Blazej Augustyn and Prince Buaben, while there are injury doubts over captain Alim Ozturk, midfielder Arnaud Djoum and winger Sam Nicholson.

In a further blow, the Scottish Football Association have confirmed Ozturk is suspended for the Scottish Cup replay with Hibs next Tuesday. The defender was booked against Aberdeen in the fourth round and against Hibs in Sunday’s 2-2 fifth round draw, triggering an automatic one-match ban in the same competition.