Hearts offer Mihai Popescu full support as key man returns for Alloa match

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Hearts remain fully behind their Romanian centre-back Mihai Popescu after criticism over his part in Friday’s defeat at Dunfermline.

The 2-1 loss brought flak for several Tynecastle players including Popescu. Former Hearts winger Neil McCann labelled his defending “ridiculous” for Dunfermline’s first goal, but manager Robbie Neilson today offered complete support.

As he prepared to welcome back Austrian midfielder Peter Haring tonight against Alloa, Neilson stressed no-one should blow aspects of the defeat at East End Park out of proportion.

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Hearts lost their 100 per cent record and want a positive reaction at home this evening. Popescu is expected to keep his place in the team with Neilson praising his contribution since arriving from Dinamo Bucharest in September.

Hearts are fully behind Mihai Popescu after recent criticism.Hearts are fully behind Mihai Popescu after recent criticism.
Hearts are fully behind Mihai Popescu after recent criticism.

The 27-year-old hit the crossbar twice with headers on Friday and Neilson explained that some more erratic moments do not warrant such a high level of scrutiny.

Small margins

“If his headers were an inch lower he would have been sitting with a double. It’s small margins, isn’t it?,” queried the manager. “He had a couple of slack passes during the game but I think everyone did.

“When you’re a centre-half and you step forward, it’s more visible than if you’re a wide player and it’s a short pass round the corner which goes astray.

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“Mihai is a strong character and he has done very well for us. Let’s not blow things out of proportion in the space of a 15-minute period during a game.

“We are nine competitive games in and we’ve won eight of them, so there are no qualms at all about him.”

One player to return

Haring sat out the Dunfermline match because of a small niggle but has trained ahead of Alloa’s visit to Gorgie. However, on-loan Preston North End winger Josh Ginnelly won’t make it after pulling out of training.

“Peter will be available. He has come through fine,” said Neilson. “Jordan Roberts will be available, Jamie Walker is available, so we’re starting to get people back again. That’s important.

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“The bench on Friday night, although we had some boys there who could come on and change things, they still weren’t quite fit.

“The danger was bringing them on when they aren’t fit and then they break down while they are out there.

“They’ve had another few days training and overcome things, so now they’ve ticked a lot of the boxes which need ticked before we can put them in there. Most of them will be ready for Alloa.

“We are leaving Ginnelly until Saturday. He’s been doing a bit of running and hopefully he will be ready for the weekend.”

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Some tweaks

Hearts will make some changes to their starting line-up this evening although they will be minimal.

“We will make a couple just to freshen things up with it being a home game,” said Neilson. “We will give some players game time but we want to win the game so there won’t be wholesale changes, that’s for sure.

“I don’t think there is any need to make sweeping changes because the players have done very well so far this season. Yes, we were disappointed with Friday’s result but we’ve looked at it.

“I thought we dominated the game in the first half and then in the second half it was more open, more like a basketball game where anybody could have won. It could have ended up 4-4 but things didn’t go away.

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"We just need to learn from it. Everybody had a good chat about it yesterday and we move on.”

What to make of the Wasps

Part-time Alloa are without a league win this season and travel to Edinburgh propping up the rest of the Championship. They have garnered one point from four league fixtures this season.

“Alloa are very well organised and have a really settled team. Over the last four or five years they’ve kept the same players so they know what they’re doing,” said Neilson.

“They pass the ball well across the back and into midfield, and their rotations are very good. They are coming to Tynecastle with nothing to lose and it’s up to us to impress ourselves upon the game.”

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Walker’s view

Walker is eager to do just that as one of the Hearts players pushing for full match sharpness after a minor calf complaint.

“I had a great pre-season and started the season well,” he explained. “Then I picked up a wee knock against Arbroath which kept me out for a bit. I was delighted to play on Friday and hopefully I can kick on from here.

“It was just a little tight calf and I didn’t want to risk it. I played against Hibs and it was still sore so I just waited for a couple of games. Hopefully I’m fully fit now.

“The gaffer knows me well. I want to play every week, contribute to good performances and I like scoring goals. Most importantly, we want to get the club back to the Premiership. That’s the main aim and hopefully my performances can help.

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“Friday wasn’t good enough. It didn’t look like we were playing for Scottish Cup final places. Everyone needs to take part of the blame.

"There is a Scottish Cup final – and maybe a quarter-final or semi-final in the Betfred Cup – to look forward to. These are big games and people need to perform if they want to play.

"Deep down, everybody knows that we weren’t good enough individually or collectively. The boys are professional enough to accept that. The gaffer obviously said his bit so we put that to bed and look forward to Alloa.”

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