Fatigued Hearts players need more energy for Europa Conference League clash with Istanbul Basaksehir
Manager Robbie Neilson conceded that a degree of fatigue was affecting his players after seven games in three weeks. A 1-0 defeat at Livingston on Saturday made it five defeats and two victories from those fixtures and the next five days offer a vital recuperation period before more European action.
A packed Tynecastle Park should get adrenaline flowing. “There will be 20,000 fans there and it's European football,” said Neilson. “The most important thing for us is getting energy back in the group. We have five days to prepare now. Over the last week or two it's been relentless, now we have a wee bit of a break before the next match.”
Christian Montano’s first-half goal earned Livingston three points amid a poor overall Hearts performance. “When you are on top, you have to get the goal. We got two or three opportunities and didn't take them. Then you let them start to dictate the way the game is,” explained Neilson.
“It becomes second balls, aggression and pressing people. Livi are very good at it and that's why you need to get it out of these pressure areas. We didn't and got caught up in the game.
“When you lose a goal after 20 minutes, Livingston can sit deep and tight. They get their back four and drop three midfielders and two wide players in. So you have ten people to try and break through.
“The boy up front [Joel Nouble] does brilliant holding the ball up. Similar to Wednesday night, we didn't have that spark because of fatigue in the team. We need to get that energy back for the final moment.”
Hearts are hopeful Craig Halkett will return from injury against Istanbul. “He was touch and go for today. The original injury is okay, he just had a wee spasm. He should be back for Thursday and will be a big positive.”
New Hearts striker Stephen Humphrys made his debut in West Lothian but goalkeeper Zander Clark was not involved. He signed as a free agent on Friday night and Neilson is keen to bring in more out-of-contract players in the coming days.
“We are still looking,” he said. “Experience tells you that it usually takes a week to ten days, then people start realising: 'That's an option for me.' We'll see where we are.”
Livingston manager David Martindale expressed his delight at the result and full-back Montano’s performance. “I think that’s his twin brother,” he joked. “I expected that level from him last year but when he came up I wasn’t sure he was a left-back.
“He did quite well as a left-winger and he told me he would rather play higher up the park. It took him 12 months to adjust to the style of football, the intensity, the game loads.
“He has really kicked on this year but that’s the player I expected six to 12 weeks into last season. It’s just unfortunate I had to pay his wages for 12 months,” he laughed.
“He has definitely been one of our best players this season. I’m delighted with him and I finally feel I’ve got the player I recruited last year.”