Robbie Neilson today revealed Hearts are working on how to play with ten men ahead of Sunday’s trip to face Rangers at Ibrox.
The head coach is determined to prepare for all eventualities amid a hostile atmosphere, including having one of his own players sent off.
Hearts have had someone red-carded in three of their last six visits to Ibrox dating back to January 2010 and Neilson is conscious that away teams can sometimes be harshly treated in Glasgow. He knows emotions will be intense when two of the country’s biggest clubs meet on the opening day of the season.
With that in mind, the Hearts head coach has devised a combat plan in case his team are reduced to ten men, as Hibs were last night in their 2-1 defeat by Rangers in the Petrofac Training Cup. Craig Thomson will referee the match, but that and last night’s events have no bearing on Neilson’s preparations, which began last week before officials were appointed.
Training games have taken place at Riccarton involving ten men versus 11 to work on playing with a disadvantage. Neilson is coaching his team on how to cope in that situation and has given his squad information on how to adapt and what formation to take up should it happen this weekend.
“We’ve been working on ten versus 11 because we know what it’s like when we go there – the atmosphere, with referees, and you never know what’s going to happen,” said Neilson.
“It’s important we work on all these kinds of things and prepare for different scenarios that could happen in a game.
“It will be a big game. The place will be packed to the rafters. This will be one of the most competitive games Rangers have had in the last couple of years, certainly in the league. We must prepare for it properly and cover all the bases for things which could happen. That’s got to be one of them.
“There are different things we can do. We changed the shape during the friendly against St Johnstone on Sunday just to look at some different things and start gearing up for the matches coming up. It’s important the boys are versatile, that they know different formations and what’s expected of them in different scenarios during the game.”
Striker James Keatings was due to return to training today after a niggling hamstring problem. Barring any reaction, he should be in contention to make his competitive Hearts debut against Rangers following his summer move from Hamilton Academical.
• Hearts were one of 22 Scottish clubs to be fined for their disciplinary record last season.
As well as being relegated from the Premiership last term, the Tynecastle side finished bottom of the disciplinary table, with five red cards and 86 bookings.
They have been fined £7000, meaning they have now been sanctioned by the SFA ten years in succession.