Hearts return from the international break into a frantic period of five fixtures in 14 days which will heavily influence their season.
Next weekend they face Aberdeen at Tynecastle Park followed by a midweek trip to Dundee, a Betfred Cup semi-final against Celtic, another midweek visit from Hibs and then a journey to Parkhead.
Craig Levein’s enlarged and transformed squad is in much better fettle to cope with such demands now compared to this time last year. Nonetheless, it is a congested run of games which will test Hearts’ resolve and character. They are unlikely to be fazed sitting two points clear at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership.
The Hibs match carries obvious significance in the context of Edinburgh’s fierce football rivalry. A key point surrounding that fixture as that the Easter Road club will enjoy an 11-day break before visiting their neighbours, while Hearts play twice in that time.
Hibs are away to Celtic in the league next weekend but are then inactive until they face Hearts on Hallowe’en. They had been due to play Rangers but the Betfred Cup semi-finals triggered a postponement. Levein’s side travel to Dundee and meet Celtic at BT Murrayfield in the aforementioned semi-final prior to the derby. Clearly Hibs will enter that match as the fresher side, but if results go Hearts’ way then they could be carrying real momentum.
There are also further reinforcements to come despite the transfer window having closed six weeks ago. English winger Sean Clare is the latest of 18 summer signings and has been restoring himself to full fitness since signing a three-year Hearts contract last month.
He is now on the verge of making his debut and staking a claim to be crowbarred into an extremely competitive starting line-up. The 22-year-old Londoner reportedly drew interest from Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, Leeds United, Aston Villa and Rangers whilst playing for Sheffield Wednesday last season. He then injured an ankle and needed surgery, so his arrival is viewed as something of a coup by Levein.
Another slightly more low-profile player eager to impose himself is the Dane Danny Amankwaa. He was signed in January from FC Copenhagen and has taken a fair amount of time to adapt to Scottish football. He was criticised for poor fitness and, at times, poor application, but recently looks much improved.
He made two brief substitute appearances for the first team lately against Motherwell and St Johnstone, appearing sharp and lively on both occasions albeit only for a few minutes.
More evidence of this can be found in his performances for Hearts reserves. He has lightning acceleration and fine ball skills but adjusting to the robust nature of the game in this country has proven a challenge. He now looks capable of winning the fight.
A right-sided winger like Clare and Callumn Morrison, the 24-year-old is not short on challengers for his favoured position. The upcoming winter period is perhaps make-or-break time in terms of his Hearts career.
The games are about to come thick and fast and Levein will need to use his vast squad to cope with some inevitable bouts of fatigue – and possibly injury – in certain areas of his team. That may well open avenues for the likes of Clare and Amankwaa, plus Clevid Dikamona, Ben Garuccio, Oliver Bozanic and several others, to get some much-awaited game time.
Hearts can approach their busy period with confidence after a rest during international fortnight. League and cup business resumes with a bang next week, and they are in good shape to handle the ride.