Hearts v Hamilton preview: Mitchell suspended | rest for striker? | high-scoring record against Accies

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Hearts goalkeeper Colin Doyle didn’t shy away from agreeing this Boxing Day clash was a “must-win” encounter and it’s easy to see why.

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Hearts defeated Hamilton 4-1 back in August as Craig Levein's men got their season off to the flyer. Picture: SNS

Hearts defeated Hamilton 4-1 back in August as Craig Levein's men got their season off to the flyer. Picture: SNS

Hearts have managed just one victory in their last ten fixtures in all competitions, a dreadful run that has turned a once promising season into a gruelling slog.

Of course, there’s plenty of time to turn things around with a number of important first-team stars due to return from injury in January. Even still, the club could really do with going into the winter break with some sort of positivity and they’ll have the chance to achieve that over the next two games.

While fans will already be casting their eyes towards Saturday’s Edinburgh derby, this game cannot be taken lightly. Accies achieved a draw against fourth place Kilmarnock at the weekend and drew on their only trip to Tynecastle last season.

There were green shoots of recovery in the 2-0 defeat to Aberdeen as the competed well against the league’s in-form team for the most part, but there was still a lack of cutting edge in attack while errors continued to be committed on the defensive end; two problems that have run throughout this terrible stretch of form.

It will be interesting to see how Craig Levein plans on using the returning Arnaud Djoum. Olly Lee and Oliver Bozanic worked well as a midfield-combo against Aberdeen, while Sean Clare showed flashes of his potential in a bright first half. One player who did not show up as well was Steven MacLean, and with three games in the space of a week he may be given a rest. It’s a catch-22 situation for Levein, who’ll also be wanting to ensure Naismith doesn’t play 90 minutes with the derby coming this Saturday, but without a reserve striker available due to injury he could be forced into doing so with at least one of his veteran attackers.

Injuries / suspension / unavailable

Hearts - The home side will be without Demetri Mitchell as the Manchester United loanee serves a one-game suspension following his red card at Pittodrie last weekend. He joins a lengthy list of missing players as injury continues to ravage the Tynecastle squad. Uche Ikpeazu (foot), John Souttar (hip), Jimmy Dunne (ankle) and Clevid Dikamona (quad) will play no part in the fixture, while Harry Cochrane and Craig Wighton (both ankle) are doubtful. Only the latter two are in contention for a place when they travel to Easter Road on Saturday.

Accies - Hamilton are likely to be without skipper Darian MacKinnon and former Hearts striker James Keatings. MacKinnon limped off after pulling a calf during Saturday’s draw with Kilmarnock, while Keatings was also in the wars against Steve Clarke’s team as he suffered a dead leg. Both are now rated by boss Martin Canning as doubts. Defender Alex Gogic is not due back from his knee injury until next month while Marios Ogkmpoe has been pencilled in for a February return from his own knee injury.

Magic number

14 - The number of games in succession where Hearts have not named the same starting XI as the previous match. Wednesday’s match against Hamilton is included in this sequence as Mitchell’s suspension will enforce at least one change.

Key battle

While the Aberdeen defeat lacked improvement in the bottom line, there were green shoots of recovery with Hearts looking a little more competitive than they had in many of their outings without Naismith in the starting XI. The attacker will be expected to start again when Accies visit as the hosts are desperate for the three points. Looking to stop him from influencing the match will be the Accies defence, led by veteran centre-back Matthew Kilgallon.

Key stats

Hearts are on a nine-game unbeaten run against their Lanarkshire opponents and have lost only once in 14 meetings - a 3-2 defeat in August 2015 in which Accies netted twice late on after Callum Paterson had been wrongly sent off for Robbie Neilson’s side. In those 14 games, Hearts have plundered an impressive 34 goals, which is an average of nearly 2.5 per match.

Referee

Hearts will be looking for brighter fortunes than their last two games officiated by Don Robertson. The whistler was in charge as Levein’s side drew 0-0 with Livingston in September and then the 1-0 defeat to Kilmarnock. That’s not as bad as Hamilton, though, who’ve suffered two defeats to Celtic and a 6-0 hammering by Hibs in matches involving Robertson this term.

Possible teams

Hearts (3-4-3): Doyle; Haring, M Smith, Berra; Morrison, Lee, Bozanic, Garuccio; Djoum, Clare; Naismith. Subs from: Zlamal, Hughes, Brandon, Godinho, C Smith, McDonald, Mulraney, MacLean, Amankwaa.

Hamilton (3-5-2): Woods; Gordon, Kilgallon, McMann; McGowan, Taiwo, Martin, Imrie, Sowah; Miller, Bingham. Subs from: Marsden, Fulton, Tshiembe, Penny, Want, Monlouis, Kelly, Brustad, Bloomfield, Boyd, Mucha.