Hearts welcome Kilmarnock to Tynecastle on Saturday as they look to get back to winning ways having lost two and drawn one of their last three matches.
Celtic’s 5-0 thumping of the league leaders at Parkhead last week cut the Gorgie side’s lead at the top of the table to one point. A win for Craig Levein’s men will increase their advantage with both sides of the Old Firm not playing until Sunday.
There is good news for the Hearts boss in that there has been no fresh injuries to contend with. He has also been buoyed by the news that captain Christophe Berra and Steven Naismith are hoping to return next month.
Yet, he is still left with much to ponder with only one out-and-out fit striker in Steven MacLean. Behind the experienced forward there are plenty of options with an array of central midfielders and a collection of wide men.
The big question hanging over team selection is regarding the formation Levein will play. If he’s to stick with the 4-4-2 then Craig Wighton is the likely individual to partner MacLean. However, with such an array of midfielders he may opt to pack the midfield and attacking support from there.
Either way Arnaud Djoum, who has been called up for Cameroon’s clash with Brazil, will feature heavily. He could be moved into a more attacking role if Levein plays with two wingers as Olly Lee is likely to return to the team having been on the bench against Celtic.
The Rugby Park side will pose a threat. Only Hearts have a better points per game average away from home this season than Clarke’s side.
Killie were the better side last weekend as they fell to a 2-1 home defeat to Aberdeen. Once again they will miss the crafty presence of Greg Stewart, once on the books at Hearts, and possibly the livewire Eamonn Brophy who has only just returned to training having missed the last two fixtures.
That means Kris Boyd will lead the line as he goes in search of his 15th goal against Hearts. He’s only scored more against Killie and Dundee United.
Injuries / suspensions / unavailable
Hearts - There are no fresh injury worries but Hearts are still without Steven Naismith (knee), Christophe Berra (hamstring), Jamie Brandon (knee), John Souttar (hip) and Uche Ikpeazu (foot). However, Naismith and Berra are hoping to make a return in the coming weeks.
Kilmarnock - Steve Clarke will likely be out with his two key forwards. Eamonn Brophy missed the games against Rangers and Aberdeen with a knock but could make the bench at best. Strike partner Greg Stewart is definitely unavailable as he completes the two-game ban he received for aiming an off-the-ball headbutt at Hamilton’s Scott Martin.
Magic number - 177
No team has suffered more fouls than Hearts and Killie this season in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
In Peter Haring and Alan Power, Hearts and Killie respectively have two of the best midfielders in the division at reading the midfield battle and picking up on loose and second balls. Both are combative and observant which allows them to nip in, winning or keeping possession for their team. Neither are natural sitting midfielders, they like to move vertically and laterally so will definitely come into contact with each other. Whichever one holds the upper hand will likely be on the winning side.
Hearts will look to secure their first back-to-back wins over Kilmarnock in more than three years. Those pair of wins came 16 months apart. A 5-0 victory, with Ryan Stevenson scoring a hat-trick, when the club as already relegated in May 2014 was followed up in September 2015 with a 3-2 League Cup success. It was a special win as Robbie Neilson’s men netted twice in late on to snatch the win. Killie have had a good record against Hearts. In 12 fixtures between March 2011 and 2014 they won eight times.
Don Robertson is the man in the middle at Tynecastle as he oversees Hearts for the third time this campaign. Levein will be hoping it is a case of third time lucky with the referee having taken charge of Hearts’ 0-0 draw with Livingston, in which he gave the home side a spot-kick, in the league and the Betfred Cup fixture against Raith Rovers which finished all-square after 90 minutes. Kilmarnock have had experience of Robertson once this term, a 3-1 win over Motherwell in which each side were awarded a penalty.
Hearts (4-4-2): Zlamal; Smith, Dikamona, Dunne, Garuccio; Morrison, Haring, Lee, Djoum; Wighton, MacLean. Subs from: Godinho, Hughes, Mitchell, Bozanic, McDonald, Mulraney, Clare, Cochrane, Amankwaa, Doyle.
Kilmarnock (4-5-1): MacDonald; O’Donnell, Broadfoot, Findlay, Taylor; Burke, Tshibola, Power, Dicker, Jones; Boyd. Subs from: Waters, S Boyd, Millen, Wilson, Enobakhare, Ndjoli, Mackay, Bachmann, Kiltie, Byrne, Brophy.
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