Hearts v Ross County preview: Goalkeeper dilemma, Damour to play a part, Naismith to start?
Hearts host Ross County this weekend looking to build on their encouraging performance in the second half of last weekend's narrow loss to Aberdeen at Pittodrie.
Manager Craig Levein must decide whether to start last week’s impact substitutes, Steven Naismith and Conor Washington.
Loic Damour, who signed a four-year deal on Friday, could be named in the matchday squad.
Might there be a change of goalkeeper? Management were unhappy with Zdenek Zlamal’s positioning for Aberdeen’s first goal in the 3-2 defeat. Don’t bet against Colin Doyle taking his place.
Aidy White should replace the suspended Aaron Hickey at left-back, with Peter Haring and Ben Garuccio unavailable through injury.
County have a fairly healthy squad overall, with only young goalkeeper Nathan Baxter out with a shoulder problem.
8 - the number of goals Uche Ikpeazu has scored in 31 games for Hearts
Hearts: Doyle; M Smith, Halkett, Berra, White; Walker, Clare, Bozanic, Naismith; Washington, Ikpeazu. Subs (from): Zlamal, Brandon, Dikamona, Damour, MacLean, Mulraney, McDonald, Burns, Keena, Irving
Ross County: Laidlaw; Fraser, Morris, Fontaine, Kelly; Mullin, Chalmers, Vigurs, Gardyne; Mckay; Stewart. Subs (from): Ruddy, Draper, Grivosti, Watson, Graham, Spittal, Paton.
Liam Fontaine will have his hands full keeping Uche Ikpeazu at bay.
Lowdown on opponents
Ross County have won all five of their competitive matches to date this season, conceding just two goals in the process. They arrive at Tynecastle Park posing significant danger to Hearts’ hopes of earning their first three league points of the new campaign.
Goals from midfielder Joe Chalmers, plus strikers Billy McKay and Ross Stewart gave County a resounding 3-0 victory over Hamilton Academical in their opening Premiership match last weekend.
That followed an impressive Betfred Cup group phase which brought wins against St Johnstone, Brechin City, Forfar and Montrose. As a newly-promoted top-flight side, they are clearly determined to make an impact.
Managers Steven Ferguson and Stuart Kettlewell have gradually built a good squad in Dingwall and will be confident of staying in the top flight after winning last year’s Championship.
Like many promoted sides, they still have momentum carrying on from last season. Clearly, they have kept the winning habit and that makes them opponents Hearts must treat with the utmost respect.
Former Hibs goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw is County’s new No.1 following the departure of Scott Fox to Partick Thistle. Another former Easter Road employee, Liam Fontaine, anchors their defence with Chalmers, Iain Vigurs and Michael Gardyne in midfield.
The predatory instincts of McKay seem to have been around forever in the Highlands, so it is a surprise that the Northern Irishman is still only 30 years old.
He is forming a useful attacking partnership with Stewart, a summer signing from St Mirren 12 months ago. The 23-year-old has scored five goals in County’s five victories this term.
Alan Muir is the man in the middle for this clash.