Hearts play bounce game to help key men for Scottish Cup final as club provide Liam Boyce update

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Hearts will stage a bounce match today to give players short of match practice extra game time before the Scottish Cup final.

The Edinburgh club face Rangers at Hampden Park in Saturday’s season-ending showpiece and have several influential first-team members needing additional fitness.

Defenders John Souttar, Craig Halkett and Michael Smith have all been sidelined recently alongside midfielder Cammy Devlin. They will all take part in a closed-door encounter against Hearts Under-18s designed to augment match sharpness for all concerned.

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Striker Liam Boyce is not expected to be involved after a groin problem forced him off after only 12 minutes of Saturday’s final Premiership match against Rangers at Tynecastle.

However, manager Robbie Neilson is confident that the Northern Irishman will be available for the final. The versatile Toby Sibbick is also expected to be fit as Hearts aim to lift their first major piece of silverware in ten years.

“Sibbick will be fine, he’s all right,” confirmed Neilson. “The only one would probably be Boyce. He had a wee tight groin but he should be fine. We’re expecting him to train on Thursday.

“I spoke to him on Sunday and he did a wee bit of strengthening work on Monday. We have a bounce game on Tuesday and I don’t expect him to be involved in that. He might do a wee bit before it but definitely training on Thursday.

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“The reason for the bounce game is that there are a couple of things we need to work on and a couple of guys need some extra minutes in their legs.

Tynecastle Park hosted its last game of the season on SaturdayTynecastle Park hosted its last game of the season on Saturday
Tynecastle Park hosted its last game of the season on Saturday

“It will be closed-doors against the Under-18s. The likes of John Souttar, Craig Halkett, Cammy Devlin and Michael Smith all need a wee bit more so that they are ready if we need them on Saturday.”

Asked how ready Souttar and Halkett are to start against Rangers, Neilson remained coy.

“I’ll tell you after the bounce game,” he smiled. “They got a bit of game time on Saturday. They will get a bit more in the bounce match and then I’ll sit down and have a chat with them and say: ‘Right, where are we?’

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“It’s a big decision. That’s probably been the thing about this cup final – trying to get players back fit. Can we get them there so they are ready to go and play? Souttar, Halkett, Smith, Devlin, all these guys. Andy Halliday was out for a wee bit, Boycie has had this wee issue, Ellis Simms is the same. It’s trying to get them all as fit as we can.”

Neilson hopes Hearts can impose themselves on Rangers after the Glasgow club’s exertions in Wednesday’s Europa League final.

“We have to try and implement our way of playing,” added the manager. “Don't get me wrong, Rangers are a top team. If they make five or six changes, there are still a strong team. We have to decide on the way we want to play, figure out how they play and how to stop it, then it's a case of trying to implement our game.

“It won't be a case of going out there and saying: 'Let's wait.' We have to be on the front foot and try to take the game to them.”