Five Hearts players return to fitness ahead of cup derby

Arnaud Djoum is in contention to face Hibs on Sunday
Arnaud Djoum is in contention to face Hibs on Sunday
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Arnaud Djoum is one of five Hearts players back in training and fit for Sunday’s Scottish Cup Edinburgh derby against Hibs.

Michael Smith, Lewis Moore, Anthony McDonald and Rafal Grzelak are also free of injury and available for the fourth-round tie at Tynecastle Park.

Ross Callachan was expected to train with the first-team squad at Riccarton today and has an outside chance of being included in the squad. Prince Buaben is likely to miss out.

Djoum’s recovery from an injury which affected his calf and Achilles is a major boost to Hearts as they try to beat Hibs for the first time in ten attempts. The Cameroonian stayed behind to work on his fitness last week while his team-mates headed to Spain for a winter training camp. He hasn’t played in more than a month.

“I’m fit now. I just took my time to come back and not rush anything,” Djoum told the Evening News. “I’m pain-free, which took a little bit longer than expected. I did some individual training and I feel good. Now I am training with the boys and trying to be ready for the game on Sunday. “Injuries are part of football and it was frustrated watching the team from the side. Hopefully, I can now stay fit for the rest of the season.”

Manager Craig Levein revealed how others returning gives him plenty options to ponder. “The injured guys are all progressing really well so it puts us in a good position to be ready to play against Hibs,” he said.

“The one who is a wee bit behind is Prince. I don’t think he’s going to make Sunday. By the looks of things, the others should be ready to at least be in contention.”

Levein knows the stakes are high as Hearts try to eliminate their city neighbours from the Scottish Cup at the third time of asking. The clubs met in the competition last season and the season before, with Hibs prevailing after a replay on both occasions.

As director of football, Levein watched head coaches Robbie Neilson and Ian Cathro endure criticism from fans in the aftermath. He then suffered a similar fate when Hibs beat Hearts 1-0 in the Premiership last October at Easter Road.

“It was a stick to beat me with when we lost to Hibs,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what your record is. If you lose, you’re taking criticism. That’s part of the job.

“I’m feeling good ahead of this one. There is always a little bit of added spice with this fixture and this is no different. The fact it’s a cup tie adds to that. We haven’t done particularly well in the last couple of years in cup ties so there is an added incentive to win this one.”