Hearts captain Alim Ozturk believes he can force himself back into Robbie Neilson’s starting line-up sooner rather than later after recovering from a hernia operation.
The central defender went under the knife in October, having played through the pain barrier at the start of the Ladbrokes Premiership season. His last outing came in the Jambos’ 3-2 League Cup third-round win at Kilmarnock back in September, in which he scored.
Fellow centre backs Igor Rossi and Blazej Augustyn formed a strong understanding during Ozturk’s absence, which included a run of four consecutive clean sheets in the league. However, the Dutch-born Turk has belief in his ability to regain a starting place.
“I’ve got confidence in myself and I think if I’m 100 per cent fit I’ll come back,” asserted the skipper. “I’m going to make it really hard for them. I’m not surprised [they’ve been doing well] because I know we have a good team, good players. If someone goes out, someone can come in. I’m really happy.”
Ozturk also revealed his frustration at not being involved after his team’s excellent start to their first season back in the top flight.
“It’s so annoying,” he said. “You play the first few weeks without pain so you think, okay, it’s all right now. It was just a little bit after four, five weeks. It’s the first surgery but week after week it was worse. The physio said the pain after the first surgery was normal. The gaffer said to me as well that he got the same surgery and that I would feel it a bit. It was the first surgery for me as well, I had none before. I had no experience with it.”
Ozturk managed the whole game as Hearts Under-20s defeated their Aberdeen counterparts 3-1 at Riccarton on Tuesday, making a decisive contribution with two trademark strikes from free-kicks.
With Hearts travelling to Perth tomorrow knowing a point or better will keep them in third place ahead of opponents St Johnstone over Christmas, Ozturk is ready should Neilson include him from the start.
“I played 90 minutes on Wednesday and I felt good,” he said. “It’s a bit stiff but that’s normal. I’m almost there.”
Another potential change to the Hearts back-line could see Jordan McGhee drop out, after enduring a difficult afternoon at Pittodrie when his inexplicable handball late on gifted the Dons all three points.
As captain, Ozturk made a point of trying to keep his young team-mate’s spirits up.
“Of course it’s been difficult for him, but I said ‘that’s football’,” explained Ozturk. “Everybody will make mistakes. This week it was Jordan, next week it’s anybody else.”