Hearts to name strongest team for Scottish Cup tie at Auchinleck Talbot

Robbie Neilson intends to select Hearts’ strongest team against West of Scotland League side Auchinleck Talbot in Saturday’s Scottish Cup tie.

Friday, 21st January 2022, 6:30 am

Recognising the difficulties of a trip to the Ayrshire Juniors, the Edinburgh club’s manager will resist the temptation to rotate his squad and simply look to secure a place in the tournament’s fifth round.

He watched Talbot beat Irvine Meadow 3-2 at Beechwood Park last weekend and anticipates a hostile atmosphere amid a 4,000 crowd. Top goalscorer Liam Boyce should be involved, defender Craig Halkett is fit, although there is still some doubt over midfielder Beni Baningime.

“Liam is back in full training and will be available for the weekend. Woodburn is still out with covid and Baningime is in training. He’s not ready to start but we’re hoping he’ll be on the bench,” said Neilson.

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EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - JANAURY 17: Heart's manager Robbie Neilson during a Hearts training session at the Oriam training facility, on January 17, 2022, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

“He did partial training on Thursday and will do more on Friday. The plan has always been to get him ready for the Celtic game. Potentially, he will be on the bench on Saturday.

“The Scottish Cup is a chance to win silverware. We didn’t manage to do it last year so we have to try and put it right this year. We go to Auchinleck, which is a very tough tie away from home, so we need to make sure we are at full strength.

“We don’t have a big enough squad to rotate too much. We’ve got a couple of injuries and a couple of Covid issues. We have to be professional and respect Auchinleck, go down there and put in a professional performance.

“We’ll go full strength. We’ve got seven games in 22 days. We’ve spoken to the boys about how every game is just as important as the next one so it’s important we go into these matches at it right from the start.”

Hearts exited last season’s Scottish Cup at the hands of Highland League club Brora Rangers and are in no mood for another shock. “Yeah, we know cup football is like that. You see in England last week a lot of upsets and this weekend there will be upsets too,” acknowledged Neilson.

“It’s part of the romance of the cup and we have to make sure we’re ready for it. It’s a different environment to what we’re used to but it’s one we look forward to. Going down there will be great, there will be 4,000 fans, a good atmosphere and it should be a big game.”

Asked if there was still linger hurt from that Brora defeat last March, Neilson replied: “I think we’ve got a totally different team now. There are very few players who played that night who are still here.

“We go in with a different group of players. We go into a cup competition, we’re a club that should be winning cups and to do that we have to get through these early stages.”

Neilson confirmed striker Armand Gnanduillet is close to joining French side Le Mans. “Armand is speaking to another club with our permission so we are just waiting to see whether the deal happens. If it does, he goes with our best wishes. If not, he will come back into the squad.

“We are already looking in that position because it's an area we need to strengthen.”

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