Hearts face key midfield decision with 14 players set for first experience of Edinburgh derby at Easter Road

Fourteen Hearts players will experience an Edinburgh derby at Easter Road for the first time on Tuesday with the words of manager Robbie Neilson ringing in their ears.

Monday, 31st January 2022, 7:00 am

The vast majority of Neilson’s squad have never sampled a Hibs-Hearts encounter in Leith due to personnel changes since the clubs last played there two years ago.

Stephen Kingsley, Toby Sibbick, Taylor Moore, Nathaniel Atkinson, Alex Cochrane, Beni Baningime, Cammy Devlin, Aaron McEneff, Ben Woodburn, Gary Mackay-Steven, Andy Halliday, Barrie McKay, Ellis Simms and Josh Ginnelly are the men in question.

All of the above could take the field at some point at Easter Road and Neilson, who has played and managed there many times, offered some advice.

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Hearts fans in the away end at Easter Road.

“Win your tackles, win your headers, win your 50/50s. That’s the start. After that, you just need to win the game,” he said. “It’s going to be a white-hot atmosphere. We will have nearly 4,000 fans there. I hope it’s a full house if they can sell it out.

“You need composure when you get the ball but you also have to compete. You hope football eventually breaks out but quite often it doesn’t.”

Kingsley, Moore, Cochrane, Baningime, Woodburn, Mackay-Steven, McKay and Ginnelly all featured in last September’s goalless draw between the Edinburgh clubs at Tynecastle.

Under former manager Daniel Stendel, Hearts won 3-1 on their previous visit to Easter Road back on March 2, 2020, with goals from Sean Clare, Oliver Bozanic and Conor Washington.

Neilson admitted that he has a major decision to make this time regarding the central midfield area. Beni Baningime, Peter Haring and Cammy Devlin are all vying for starting places.

Baningime returned against Celtic last week after two months out with a knee injury. Devlin has been a standout since arriving last August and possesses both the energy and tenacity to thrive in an Edinburgh derby.

Haring’s comprehensive recent displays have made him a serious contender for the trip across the city. “It was good having Beni and Cammy back together on Saturday against Motherwell but Peter did really well in the last five or six games, so I’ve still got a decision to make about who goes into that central area,” explained Neilson.

“Although we won 2-0, I don’t think we performed great on Saturday so there are still decisions to be made.

“Baningime is a fit kid, doesn’t carry any weight, so I don’t see it being a problem if we put him in. The derby might suit Devlin but I think all the players can do better than they did on Saturday. After the weekend, I don’t think anybody is guaranteed a start.”

Michael Smith’s back problem and Craig Halkett’s hamstring mean they are both ruled out. However, Smith could return as soon as this weekend.

“Halkett will be around four to six weeks. Michael will probably be a week or so,” said Neilson. “He is getting an injection in his back on Monday and there should be a five or six-day turnaround on it. He might be ready for the game away to Rangers on Sunday. It’s just an injection so fingers crossed.”

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