Hearts skipper Alim Ozturk set for Under-20 return

Alim Ozturk hasn't played for Hearts since late September
Alim Ozturk hasn't played for Hearts since late September
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HEARTS captain Alim Ozturk could play his first game in two months on Monday after recovering from hernia surgery.

Coaching staff are hopeful the defender will take part when Hearts Under-20s host Dundee at Ochilview, with a first-team comeback pencilled in for next month.

Ozturk has returned to training at Riccarton after undergoing a second hernia operation in the space of a few months in October. His last match for Hearts was the 3-2 League Cup win at Kilmarnock in late September, in which he scored his team’s first goal.

“Ozturk is doing well and he’s been training, although not quite the full session yet,” explained head coach Robbie Neilson. “We’re trying to build him up to get him involved with the Under-20s on Monday. He’ll hopefully get half an hour or so in that match and then we can build him up from there over the next few weeks. It’ll be well into December before he’s ready to come back into the first team.”

The positive news is tempered by the fact striker Soufian El Hassnaoui took an injection to help cure his groin injury, with Neilson reluctant to put a timescale on his recovery. The Dutchman tore his posterior cruciate ligament in July and returned to training earlier this month, only for the groin problem to set him back. He also missed periods of last season with ankle and groin injuries.

“He’s had an injection in his groin, so he’s still recovering from that,” said Neilson. “Again, we now need to build him up gradually to try and get him back fit. I don’t want to put any timescale on it. We’ve done that a lot with Soufian and said we’re trying to get him back for this and that. It’s a case of getting him back now. If it takes three weeks or it takes two months, it’s just important we get him back. We’ll take our time.

“It’s important to try and help him through this period because it’s been very difficult for him. He’s found it hard to get fitness and he’s been breaking down a lot. I still think there’s time left for him to get back in and show what he can do. We do believe he’s got good ability.”

Striker Juanma Delgado returns to the Hearts squad for tomorrow’s trip to Motherwell after serving a one-game ban. “He gives me an option,” said Neilson. “We missed him a wee bit last week with his physicality. That’s something we might need on Saturday but at the moment I haven’t made my mind up what we’re going to do.

“Fir Park is always a difficult venue to go to. Motherwell are sitting in a difficult position, second bottom, and they lost last weekend up at Ross County so they’ll be keen to bounce back from that.

“Our players are wearing the Foundation of Hearts strip for the first time and that’s something they’ll really look forward to. It will be a big day for the club and we’re going there to try and get three points.”