Hearts v Rangers: Star midfielder a doubt | further injury setbacks | who will partner Ikpeazu?
Hearts are back in Ladbrokes Premiership action this Saturday as Rangers visit Tynecastle for the early kick-off game broadcast live by Sky Sports.
Craig Levein’s men will look to build up some momentum heading into the Scottish Cup final with just five league games remaining. They’ve so far been unable to take enough a point off the Ibrox side so far this season, but will be hoping for better luck at Tynecastle with Uche Ikpeazu in the squad after the striker missed the previous visit in December.
Hearts were able to rebound from a poor first-half showing against Inverness CT at Hampden last weekend by netting three times in the second period and booking a meeting with Celtic in the final.
Unfortunately, the victorious starting XI will have to be altered with young attacker Aidan Keena to miss the rest of the season through injury. Steven MacLean was brought on to replace the Irishman during the second half of the Inverness victory and he’ll likely get the nod ahead of Craig Wighton and David Vanecek.
Hearts team news
Peter Haring is again a doubt for Hearts. The Austrian midfielder shook off a groin injury to face Inverness in last weekend’s semi-final but the problem has resurfaced. Hearts will also be without Keena and Callumn Morrison, both of whom have been ruled out for the rest of the season with cartilage injuries. Full-backs Ben Garuccio and Demetri Mitchell and forward Steven Naismith are all out with knee injuries.
Possible Hearts team
Zlamal; Smith, Souttar, Berra, Burns; Lee, Djoum, Bozanic, Mulraney; MacLean, Ikpeazu. Subs from: Godinho, Brandon, Shaughnessy, Clare, Haring, Wighton, Vanecek, Doyle, Cochrane
Rangers team news
Rangers will be without Ryan Kent and Alfredo Morelos for this clash. Kent will serve the second of a two-game ban he received for lashing out at Scott Brown in the recent Old Firm game. Morelos, meanwhile, will serve the third of his four-match ban for receiving his fifth red card of the season (fourth in the Ladbrokes Premiership) for elbowing the Celtic captain. Apart from that, and long-term absentee Jamie Murphy, manager Steven Gerrard insists the rest of the squad are fit and available.
Possible Rangers team
McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Halliday; Jack, Kamara, Davis; Candeias, Defoe, Arfield. Subs from: Foderingham, Worrall, Flanagan, Barisic, McAuley, McCrorie, Coulibaly, Grezda, Middleton, Lafferty
Magic number - 8
The number of games Hearts have gone without beating the Glasgow side, a stretch which includes just one draw. In fairness, only two of those have been home matches, and one of those was in front of a near 50-50 crowd at Murrayfield.
At the risk of repeating ourselves (again) it’s Uche Ikpeazu against whichever Rangers centre-back is tasked with slowing down the physical striker. Without Naismith and with Haring likely to miss this one, as the cup final looms, Ikpeazu’s importance to the team takes on extra significance. He’ll be relied upon to drag Hearts up the park with his strong running, bring other players into the attack with his hold-up play, and provide a scoring threat in the final third. If Rangers can’t do stop him then the home side have a great chance of prevailing.
It’s been a bit of a mixed bag for Hearts and their games involving John Beaton this season. They’ve beaten Celtic and Aberdeen at Tynecastle, but have also suffered away defeats to those two clubs, as well as losses to Rangers and Dundee.
Hearts 4/1 Draw 29/10 Rangers 13/20
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