A message for Hearts' Australian players plus an injury update on Cammy Devlin ahead of Kilmarnock game
Midfielder Cammy Devlin sustained a nasty head gash during Tuesday’s friendly with Ecuador in Mebourne and won’t take part at Rugby Park. He has been ruled out with concussion, although defenders Kye Rowles and Nathaniel Atkinson are available along with striker Garang Kuol.
“Cammy will be out for the weekend,” confirmed Robbie Neilson, the Hearts manager. “They reported concussion after the game, although he continued in it. Their doctor said it's mild concussion so he will miss the game. It's disappointing but there's nothing we can do about it. I’ve no idea how many stitches he got but no doubt he'll be telling us when he's back.
“I watched the game and I thought he did really well. I was surprised when he came back on but I know what he's like, the wee man, desperate to do well. I was pleased for him to get some game-time.” Neilson stated he was not concerned that Devlin briefly continued with the head knock before being substituted. “Doctors are there to make a decision. They are more qualified than me,” he remarked.
Kuol is expected to return in confident mood after scoring his first international goal against the same opponents last week in the first of the friendly double header. The 18-year-old is on loan at Hearts from Newcastle United and has played a bit-part role for the Edinburgh club to date.
“I'm delighted for him [scoring],” said Neilson. “He's probably not got as much game time as he'd like. We knew bringing him here, we spoke with Newcastle and it’s a big development one for him coming here. You can see in the Australia games, coming on at the end, I would like to give him more game-time and I'm sure he will.
“It’s European football, getting used to that and being away from home. He’s an 18-year-old kid who has come away from Australia, plonked down in the UK and straight up to Edinburgh. He has taken time to develop.
“I can definitely see him coming on with the defensive aspects of his game. I think we all knew that would be the area he’d need to develop. He’s a confident guy anyway, whether he scores one goal or three goals he’ll still be the same. He wants the ball and wants to do well.”
Of the Australian quartet, only Rowles is currently an automatic starter for Hearts. Atkinson has started just two club matches since the World Cup break last November, Devlin has been in and out of the team and all but one of Kuol’s seven appearances in maroon so far have been as a substitute.
Asked what the Socceroo contingent need to do to play more often, Neilson delivered a straightforward message. “Train well and play well,” he said. “We've got a good group here, it’s a 26-man squad. They need to get in the team, play well and stay in it. That's what they need to do.”
The Scotland pair of Lawrence Shankland and Zander Clark returned to training earlier in the week. Clark was an unused substitute as the national team began their European Championship qualifying campaign with a 3-0 win against Cyprus and a 2-0 victory over Spain.
Shankland, left out of coach Steve Clarke’s original squad, cut short a break in Spain after being called up to replace the injured Ché Adams. He then came off the bench for the latter stages of Tuesday’s memorable triumph against the Spaniards.
“Lawrence was away and then he came back when he got the call. I was delighted for him. He was in today,” said Neilson. “Firstly you saw the commitment to come back for the camp and then to get a bit of game time is brilliant for him. I was at the game and he had that opportunity [a late shot saved by goalkeeper Kepa]. Just being on the park and being part of that victory is massive for him.
“There was a disappointment [at missing out on original squad] but he's a big boy, then he got the call. The big thing for me was for him to get game time. In a pressure situation, Steve trusted him. He went on and did very well. He got the opportunity but not only that, he pressed well and defended well. He'll definitely be in Steve's thoughts for the summer.
“The thing with Zander is that he was involved in the squad, that's the biggest thing. Last summer he didn't have a club, so six months down the line he is the Hearts No.1 and on the bench for Scotland against Spain. He will be delighted with that, I'm sure.”
Turning his attention to the Kilmarnock match, Neilson knows Hearts need a reaction after the 3-0 loss at Aberdeen two weeks ago. “Nine games to go, we are into single figures, we are at the business end of the season. It's about winning games,” he said.
“I would have rather kept playing all the way through, instead of hanging about at the weekend watching international games and sweating about players. We had a tough wee run of fixtures, Celtic twice and Aberdeen away and we didn’t get what we wanted from that. Now it’s a case of getting down to the business end, we have nine games to go, and make sure you keep winning.
“We’re sitting four points clear in third with the same number of points we had after 29 games last season. Last season everyone thought we were doing brilliantly, this season we’re in the exact same position, so we have to look at it in perspective. Now is the time to kick on, go and win games and secure that position.”