Hearts pinpoint two rivals for third place - with younger players set for game time

Younger Hearts players have been advised to seize their opportunities in the weeks ahead as the Edinburgh club manage their extensive injury list. Celtic visit Tynecastle Park on Saturday with almost a full team of home players either sidelined or doubtful.

Senior figures Craig Halkett, Kye Rowles, Beni Baningime, Liam Boyce are out, while doubts surround Andy Halliday, Peter Haring, Michael Smith, Josh Ginnelly and Gary Mackay-Steven. In addition, Nathaniel Atkinson is awaiting the results of a scan.

Hearts don’t have their problems to seek ahead of Celtic’s arrival as they look to end a run of three wins in their last 14 matches. They lost 2-0 at Aberdeen on Sunday and younger squad members like defender Lewis Neilson, plus midfielders Connor Smith and Finlay Pollock are being urged to make the most of any first-team game time.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“We have to take it on the chin at the moment. It's been a really difficult period for us with the amount of injuries,” explained Robbie Neilson, the Hearts manager. “We were sitting on Sunday with 11 first-team players unavailable. That's 11 players who would probably start for us most weeks. In terms of performance, we are creating chances but not taking them. At the other end, we are giving up goals. It's not a good combination.

“We just have to keep digging, stick together and keep moving forward. We have a massive game this week against Celtic and we need to start picking up points. If the player isn't fit, then he isn't fit. You just look at what you've got available, try to put a squad together and a team together for that game. You can see things are a wee bit makeshift because we are putting guys into positions they aren't as comfortable in, but you have to try and do it to get a team out there.

“There is an opportunity for some of the guys who maybe haven't had much game time before – like the younger ones – to come in and show what they can do. We are waiting for some of the more senior ones to come back.”

Although sitting seventh in the cinch Premiership, Hearts remain just three points behind Hibs in third place. Neilson believes the Easter Road club and Aberdeen are his team’s two main challengers for third. He is confident that returning to full strength after the World Cup break will be pivotal to the outcome.

“We are creating chances but you look at Aberdeen on Sunday. They are absolutely buzzing to get the three points,” said Neilson. “They are sitting a point ahead of us. We have had a European campaign with group-stage football, travelling all over Europe, plus 11 injuries, and they are one points ahead of us.

Connor Smith could get more game time for Hearts in the coming weeks.

“For me, Hibs and Aberdeen are the two teams who will compete with us for third place. We need to stay near them, try to get close to them and even get ahead of them. Once we get through this World Cup break, that's when we kick on. Then we see what they have got in their locker. We will have everyone coming back, centre-halves, attackers, midfielders, and then we will see where we are.”