Barrie McKay and Craig Halkett fitness latest as Hearts face four friendlies in 11 days

Craig Halkett and Barrie McKay are edging closer to full fitness ahead of the new season, with manager Robbie Neilson confident both are on track.

McKay is set for his first start of the pre-season campaign away to Tranmere Rovers on Wednesday in what will be the first of four matches against English opposition in 11 days.

After playing the second 45 minutes against FC Europa in Spain, the winger missed the East Fife and Spartans friendlies with a niggling injury, but was given a few minutes as a late sub during Saturday’s 5-0 victory over Bonnyrigg Rose.

Neilson explained: “Barrie just had a wee niggle and he was desperate to play [in the friendlies last week]. We just felt a couple of days’ rest was what he needed to make sure he was ready for Tranmere. He’ll probably start.”

Craig Halkett and Barrie McKay

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Nathaniel Atkinson is expected to start at right wing-back in what will be his first run out after being granted an extended break due to his World Cup play-off exploits with Australia.

Halkett travelled with the squad to Merseyside today (Tuesday) to continue his rehab following ankle surgery, but Neilson said he isn’t too far away from being able to play in a friendly himself.

The fixtures against Tranmere at Prenton Park on Wednesday and Crawley Town at Tynecastle Park on Saturday are probably too soon for the centre-back, but he could feature away to Preston North End next midweek and Stoke City in Gorgie a week on Saturday, July 23.

That would be ideal timing, with Hearts’ first European match scheduled for August 18.

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Neilson told the Edinburgh Evening News: “He’s back running again, but to be honest I think it will be Preston before he is back. He’ll travel with us down to England and do some stuff. He’s not far away.”

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