Dundee v Hearts preview: Smith returns, Haring likely to miss out, flexible system?

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Hearts right-back Michael Smith returns from suspension as the Ladbrokes Premiership leaders travel to Dundee on Tuesday.

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Steven Naismith and Paul McGowan battle for possession during the 1-1 draw last season. Picture: SNS

Steven Naismith and Paul McGowan battle for possession during the 1-1 draw last season. Picture: SNS

The Northern Irishman is be expected to return to the starting XI after Marcus Godinho was pitched in as emergency cover against Aberdeen despite being short of match sharpness.

Manager Craig Levein could look to change up his system from the 4-4-2 that started against Aberdeen. The Tynecastle boss altered the formation twice during the match, going to a 4-2-3-1 and then a 3-5-2, and he could do so again if he decides to freshen things up.

Veteran Steven MacLean is one player who may drop out of the starting XI in order to get some rest before the upcoming Betfred Cup semi-final against Celtic and Edinburgh derby clash with Hibs.

Dundee, meanwhile, will be looking for a response after Saturday’s dismal 4-0 defeat at Livingston in new manager Jim McIntyre’s first game in charge.

The former Ross County boss has, in the past, looked to utilise the flanks and get balls into the box, but with a lack of natural wide men in the squad he may have to devise an alternative gameplan in order to improve the fortunes of his side before the January transfer window.

Magic number

10 - The number of goals scored by Hearts’ and the Scottish Premiership’s leading goalscorer Steven Naismith. He did, however, miss his second penalty of the campaign on Saturday, with Levein indicating the he could now be off spot-kick duty.

Injuries / suspensions / unavailable

Hearts - Midfielder Peter Haring is struggling to make the trip because of a muscle strain linked to a hernia problem. Jamie Brandon (knee) remains short of fitness, while Christophe Berra (hamstring), John Souttar (hip) and Uche Ikpeazu (foot) are long-term absentees.

Dundee - Midfielder Paul McGowan and defenders Nathan Ralph and Genseric Kusunga will have to wait at least another eight days to make their first appearance under McIntyre as they battle fitness issues. Defender Josh Meekings also remains out with a hip problem which has kept him sidelined since early September.

Key battle

Glen Kamara is usually the player who makes Dundee tick from the base of the midfield. It’ll be the job of attack-minded Hearts midfielder Olly Lee to throw his counterpart off his game and cause him some issues defensively.

Key stats

If Hearts are to extend their lead at the top of the table to six points, then they’ll have to improve on recent trips to Dens. The Tynecastle side have taken only one point from three visits over the last two seasons, the most recent of which was a 1-1 draw on April Fool’s Day earlier this year.

Dundee have yet to take a point at home this league campaign as they sit bottom of the table with just one win from nine matches.

Referee

Craig Thomson takes charge of his first Hearts game this season. The whistler last officiated a game involving the Jam Tarts in May earlier this year when Levein’s side defeated rivals Hibs in the final Edinburgh derby of the 2017/18 campaign. Hearts have a 46 per cent win rate from the 69 matches that Thomson has refereed.

Possible teams

Dundee: Parish; Kerr, O’Dea, Boyle, C Miller; Deacon, Kamara, Spence, Madianga; Moussa, K Miller. Subs from: Hamilton, Inniss, Curran, Nabi, Kallman, Ngwatala, Mendy

Hearts: Zlamal; Smith, Dikamona, Dunne, Mitchell; Morrison, Bozanic, Lee, Djoum, Clare; Naismith. Subs from: Doyle, Garuccio, Hughes, Godinho, Cochrane, McDonald, Mulraney, Amankwaa, Wighton, MacLean, Haring.