Kyle Lafferty and Michael Smith are pushing to return to the Hearts starting line-up against Celtic tomorrow.
Manager Craig Levein will not make many changes to his team but is considering reinstating both players.
Lafferty played in four Hearts-Celtic fixtures last season and scored in three of them, something Levein is mindful of ahead of the Premiership champions’ visit to Tynecastle Park.
The 30-year-old striker was left out of the side for the last two matches against Inverness and Hamilton after a failed transfer bid from Rangers. Levein admitted Lafferty’s head had been turned by the interest but a high-intensity home match against Celtic could be seen as the ideal fixture for a recall.
Smith joined in full training for the first time in two weeks at Riccarton yesterday after an adductor injury. He will be touch-and-go for tomorrow’s 12.30pm kick-off but, provided he suffers no reaction, could find himself pitched in at right-back.
Levein admitted Lafferty’s exploits against Celtic last season are in his thoughts as he mulls over team selection. “It does factor into my thinking. That’s something that comes in for every game, so he is obviously under consideration,” said the manager.
“He has trained well this week so I have no complaints on that front. He is full of enthusiasm. He scored three goals against Celtic last season and I would be surprised if anyone else did that. So that obviously comes into my thinking.
“We have got more options, more balance and more strength in depth than we had last season. So that helps. Sometimes it helps with regard to the starting line-up, sometimes it helps in terms of backup if we get injuries. But the whole thing makes me feel a bit better.”
Aaron Hughes deputised for Smith at right-back in last weekend as Hearts began their league campaign with an impressive 4-1 win at Hamilton. Smith trained yesterday with the hope of declaring himself fit to face Celtic.
“If he comes through it okay he’ll provisionally be playing, but he needs to get through it,” said Levein. “This is the acid test. He has done bits and pieces but that’s his first full day of training. If there is no reaction I am pretty certain he will be involved.”
Longer-term absentees Arnaud Djoum and Don Cowie are also increasing fitness levels after injury. However, knee victims Jamie Brandon and Marcus Godinho will be missing for another couple of months.
“Arnaud is back in full training. Don has been back in training. Brandon and Godinho will be October,” said Levein.