Hearts team news confirmed as three key players return to face Aberdeen - plus the latest on Duk's fitness
Hearts will have influential defenders Michael Smith, Stephen Kingsley and Alex Cochrane available for Saturday’s crucial meeting with Aberdeen at Tynecastle Park. All three missed last weekend’s draw at St Mirren but are expected to be named in the squad by interim manager Steven Naismith.
Smith missed the previous three games with a hamstring injury sustained against Hibs last month. Kingsley was absent at St Mirren because of a family matter, whilst Cochrane was suspended. Naismith now faces a decision over who to select at right-back.
James Hill started the last two matches but half-time substitute Nathaniel Atkinson helped Hearts recover from 2-0 down last week. Smith has been first-choice in the position for most of the season.
“There are decisions to be made every week but the competition is healthy,” Naismith told the Evening News. “As long as everybody feels they have a chance of playing, then you will get the best out of them. That’s how it’s been with all the players. All the guys who have played right-back have different attributes which each game needs.
“The Celtic game was a good one for Hilly to show his worth and show how good he is. He is arguably the best in a one-versus-one with a forward. Natty contributed last week at St Mirren and in the Ross County game, and Michael has all the experience. They all offer different things.
“We will see who we need at the weekend. Everyone is available except the guys who have been out long-term.”
Aberdeen are waiting to see if their joint-top goalscorer Duk is fit for the trip to Edinburgh. He is rated touch-and-go at the moment after limping off holding his hamstring during the second half of last week’s goalless draw with Hibs. Naismith acknowledged that the Portuguese forward is not the only danger this weekend.
“When a main player in another team doesn’t play, then on the face of it you would rather he didn’t play than play. Aberdeen have other players who have done well, though,” he said. “Maybe the relationship between their two forwards will be different now, that might change the dynamic of how they play.
“Overall, the teams up the top of the table have a bigger squad than their starting XI. The players Aberdeen bring in can have their own threats which we will need to watch out for.”
Peter Haring is available for Hearts after his red card at St Mirren was reduced to a yellow on appeal. With Cochrane and Haring both sent off somewhat unjustly in the club’s last two games, Naismith was asked if how VAR is being used is a problem.
“It definitely needs to be looked at,” he said. “It dilutes the product for everybody else because they look at it and think: ‘What a shambles that is.’ In my career, people said: ‘You went down easy.’ But what folk watching don’t understand is the speed the player is travelling at, how much force needs to be put on someone to go down.
“I’ve got loads of experience of in-game tackles, so do loads of other people, referees included, but I just think there is a better way of getting a better product that minimises the mistakes being made.”