Hearts v Kilmarnock: Star unlikely to be risked | who will start in midfield? | post-split victory hopes

Tynecastle will host its final match of the 2018/19 season on Saturday as Steve Clarke brings his Kilmarnock side to the capital.

Friday, 3rd May 2019, 3:28 pm
Updated Friday, 3rd May 2019, 3:30 pm

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Seven points behind their opponents with just three games remaining, not to mention trips to Aberdeen and Celtic in their final two games, any hope Hearts have of catching Kilmarnock would be deemed fanciful by even the most optimistic of supporters. However, there’s still plenty to play for from the home side’s point of view.

Victory would move Craig Levein’s side level on points with rivals Hibs in fifth place. Along with looking to please their fans, the players will also be mindful of the Scottish Cup final looming on the horizon. Levein tinkered with his side for last week’s 1-1 draw with Hibs in the Edinburgh derby, indicating that he’s a long way from deciding his strongest XI for the clash with Celtic on May 25.

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Hearts striker Steven MacLean fires his side in front during the last meeting at Tynecastle - only for the goal to be chopped off. Picture: SNS

Everyone at Hearts will be desperate to try and build some confidence and momentum before the Hampden showdown and this will be their best opportunity in which to do so. They were unlucky to lose to Clarke’s men at home earlier in the campaign, while they’ve won both games in Ayrshire. The visitors will be typically resolute with the goal of catching Aberdeen in third and securing a place in Europe next season still within their reach.

Hearts team news

Hearts are unlikely to risk midfielder Peter Haring against Kilmarnock. The Austrian’s groin injury has improved after receiving an injection but he will not be rushed back. Callumn Morrison, Aidan Keena, Ben Garuccio, Demetri Mitchell and Steven Naismith are all still out with knee injuries.

Possible Hearts line-up

Zlamal; Shaughnessy, Berra, Souttar; M Smith, Bozanic, Cochrane, Djoum, Mulraney; MacLean; Ikpeazu. Subs from: Godinho, Burns, Brandon, Dikamona, Lee, Wighton, Clare, Vanecek, Edwards, Doyle.

Kilmarnock team news

Stuart Findlay returns from suspension after serving a one-game ban for a red card received against Aberdeen. Fellow centre-back Kirk Broadfoot, also sent off in that match, will remain out as he serves the second of his three-game ban. There is good news for the visitors, though, with on-loan midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu is back in the squad after being unable to play against parent club Celtic last week.

Defender Scott Boyd is out with a long-term knee injury and winger Jordan Jones is still sidelined with a shoulder problem.

Possible Kilmarnock line-up

Bachmann, O’Donnell, Findlay, Bruce, Taylor; Burke, Power, Muumbu, Dicker, McKenzie; Brophy. Subs from: Tshibola, Ndjoli, Waters, Millar, McAleny, K Boyd, Millen, MacDonald, Frizzell.

Magic number - 1

There has only been one victory for the home team in this fixture in the last eight matches. This came at the end of last season when Hearts played eight teenagers - five from the start and three coming off the bench - in a 1-0 defeat at Rugby Park.

Key battle

As we’ve said numerous times before, the obvious answer is Uche Ikpeazu against whatever centre-back partnership is forced to try and deal with him. However, let’s change tact this time and focus on the midfield area. Hearts looked stronger in that department in the first half at Easter Road as the introduction Harry Cochrane and Connor Smith gave the unit a spark. The former’s passing ability and the latter’s willingness to get forward, coupled with their impressive technique, helped the underdogs establish a foothold in the game against Hibs. The hosts began to dominate when those two tired, but Oliver Bozanic and Ryan Edwards came off the bench to lift the performance once more. Levein is now spoiled for choice in the area, which is just as well because in Alan Power, Youssouf Mulumbu and Gary Dicker, Kilmarnock have a highly impressive centre-midfield corps. If the Hearts players can hold their own then the hosts should have enough to win.

Referee

Kevin Clancy has been something of a good-luck charm for Hearts so far this season as Craig Levein’s side have won three out of three fixtures in which the whistler has taken charge. He refereed the 2-1 win over Aberdeen, which included the award of two Hearts penalties, along with the 1-0 triumph over Hibs just before New Year. He also oversaw the 4-0 Scottish Cup victory over Junior side Auchinleck Talbot. Killie have only encountered Clancy twice, each of those coming against Dundee with a 3-1 home victory and a 2-2 away draw.

Odds

Hearts 17/10 Draw 23/10 Kilmarnock 8/5

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