Locke sends challenge to fringe men

HEARTS coach Gary Locke expects several players on the fringes of the Tynecastle squad to stake their claim against Ayr United tonight, with John Sutton, Rudi Skacel, Ryan McGowan and Arvydas Novikovas amongst those likely to feature at Somerset Park.

Hearts manager Paulo Sergio is preparing to tweak his team for the Scottish Communities League Cup third round tie, although Locke stressed that under no circumstances will he deploy a weakened side.

The size of the first-team squad at Tynecastle means many first-team players have featured only occasionally since Sergio replaced Jim Jefferies as manager. This evening, some will get an opportunity to prove their worth.

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“The team isn’t picked yet but Rudi has been in the squad over the last few games, as have the likes of Sutts, wee Temps and Arvydas,” said Locke. “They have all been doing really well but you can only pick 11 players. We might make a couple of changes and if he does I’m sure these boys will come in and be desperate to take their chance. They are all desperate to play and that’s a good thing.

“We’ve got a strong squad and I don’t think it would be disrespectful to make some changes with one or two of the players that the manager might bring in.

“You’re looking at players like Rudi and Ryan McGowan. They’ve done really well this season, but unfortunately because we’ve got a decent-sized squad they’ve not been able to play. But I certainly don’t think we’ll be weakening the side in any way if we do make one or two changes. Whatever team we put out will be what we think is a really strong team.

“John Sutton will obviously come into the reckoning as well. He’s another player who has been a bit unfortunate, but the guys in front of him are doing really well at the moment, so it’s difficult to change the team.”

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Jamie MacDonald should keep his place in goal ahead of Janos Balogh with Marian Kello still injured, and he is keen to stake his claim for a regular berth.

“It’s been good to get back playing again,” said MacDonald. “It’s something you crave when you’re not playing.

“It’s been good apart from the goal at Inverness [a blunder which is his only goal conceded this season], but things like that happen. I look at it as a chance to stake a claim.

“I don’t know how long Marian is going to be out for but it looks like a few more weeks anyway. So if I keep clean sheets, there is a good chance I can stay in for the season.”