Robbie Neilson admits Hearts’ trip to Inverness this Saturday has been made more difficult by the enforced absence of key defenders Igor Rossi and Blazej Augustyn.
However, the head coach is confident he has enough quality in his squad to ensure his team can cope without the suspended duo.
Centre-back Augustyn was already due to miss the trip to the Highlands after collecting his sixth league booking of the season in the recent win over Motherwell. And ever-present Rossi, who has been playing at left-back in recent weeks, will now sit out the lunchtime showdown after being shown a straight red card for a two-footed tackle on Darren Lyon during Sunday’s goalless draw with Hamilton Accies. The Brazilian will also miss the William Hill Scottish Cup clash with Hibs on February 7.
Hearts have kept three consecutive clean sheets with a settled back four of Callum Paterson, Alim Ozturk, Augustyn and Rossi, but will now only be able to call on the right-back and the captain as they prepare to visit a venue where they suffered a 2-0 defeat back in September.
Jordan McGhee, who can play anywhere across the back four, and Nigerian left-back Juwon Oshaniwa, are the two likeliest candidates to come into the defence, although Neilson also has the option of fielding the highly-rated Liam Smith at right-back if he decides to move Paterson into centre-back, a position he has deputised in previously this season.
“It’s disappointing that we’ll be missing Igor and Blazej,” the head coach said. “It makes it difficult, but we’ve got a squad, so we’ll use it. We’ve got good options so I don’t have any worries about it. We just need to get on with it.”
In a further suspension blow, midfielder Prince Buaben will miss next month’s Premiership match away to Ross County after collecting his sixth league booking of the season.
Neilson praised his players for once again being able to eke out a point while playing more than half of an away match with only ten men. “Even when we go down to ten men, the players always believe they can get something out of the game,” he said. “We need to stop getting red cards though because it’s putting us at a disadvantage.”
Neilson also explained to Gavin Reilly, who was subbed in the aftermath of Rossi’s red card, that the move was purely tactical, saying: “When we lose a man we have to change our shape. It’s nothing for Gavin to worry about.”