Head stitches won't stop Mihai Popescu partnering Craig Halkett as Hearts face Raith

Several stitches above the eye won’t stop Hearts’ Romanian defender Mihai Popescu facing Raith Rovers at Stark’s Park this evening.
Mihai Popescu is ready to step into the Hearts defence beside Craig Halkett if asked.Mihai Popescu is ready to step into the Hearts defence beside Craig Halkett if asked.
Mihai Popescu is ready to step into the Hearts defence beside Craig Halkett if asked.

He is preparing to step in and partner Craig Halkett in central defence after Christophe Berra injured a hamstring against the same opponents on Saturday.

Popescu replaced Berra just before half-time and finished the match with his head bandaged after an accidental collision. He is sporting stitches near his eyebrow but is ready to do battle in Kirkcaldy if Berra is declared unfit.

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“I just went for the ball and I collided with the striker’s head. I put my hand on it and when I looked and my hand I saw blood. It’s just a little cut, I’m okay to play,” Popescu told the Evening News.

He stressed he is not out to profit from a team-mate’s injury but is eager help Hearts. “It’s one more reason to be ready to play in this game. I don’t want to play only because someone is injured. I want to play because I am happy when I am on the pitch.”

Having started only one of his club’s last ten matches, he is entitled to feel he has shown the required patience.

“This is life in football. When you have some games which are not so good, you have to go on the bench and wait again for a chance. When you get this chance, you must make sure you stay in the team.”

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Defensive frailties were exposed both before and after Popescu entered the fray on Saturday. Raith’s 3-2 win at Tynecastle Park left Robbie Neilson, the Hearts manager, unhappy and demanding more solidity.

He explained that Berra is a doubt for this evening. “He felt his hamstring and he thinks it's just a mild one,” said Neilson. “We will see how he is but it is looking unlikely that he'll make it. Popescu will get a chance if Christophe doesn't make it.

"He got a wee cut on his head on Saturday but he will be fine, as will Craig Halkett. This will give the two of them a chance to make sure they put in a better performance.”

Popescu conceded that standards on Saturday were not what is demanded at Hearts. “I was happy to get some minutes on the pitch but I am not happy losing the game,” he said.

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“We lost the chance to go nine points ahead and we must do better. We still have six points between us and the second team. It is frustrating that we did not go nine points in front but we need to look forward.

“When a team loses, the first thing is to think about defenders because it is out job to stop the goals. Sometimes you make mistakes and when you are a defender it shows in the final result in the game.

“We have analysed the game and we want to fix the mistakes to make sure we win the games coming up. We play Raith again tonight and we want to be ready.”

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