Robbie Neilson admits he faces a big decision on whether to reinstate Faycal Rherras to the Hearts defence at Rugby Park tonight.
The Moroccan full-back has recovered from a bout of malaria contracted on international duty in Africa and is in the squad to face Kilmarnock.
Hearts recorded a clean sheet on their last outing, the 2-0 home win over Dundee ten days ago. Rherras is Neilson’s first-choice left-back but the head coach must decide whether to change the defence which kept Dundee out.
“It does give me a headache and it’s something I have to make a decision on,” Neilson told the Evening News. “You want competition in defence and we’ve got that. Alim Ozturk, Krystian Nowak and Juwon Oshaniwa are all having to wait to play.
“Faycal had been doing really well for us before he got his illness, so that now gives me that decision I’ve got to make. There is competition for places so everyone knows they have to train well and be ready. Then, when they get a chance, they need to come in and do well.
“He’s been very consistent and he wanted to play against Dundee. We spoke to the doctors and they said he might have got through it but it could knock him back. His illness could have flared up again. We decided to leave it and he’s 100 per cent now.
“The doctors said he had to rest so we sent him back to Belgium last week. He came back and he’s trained for the last few days. He’s fine for tonight.”
Neilson is eager for Hearts to collect maximum points in Ayrshire tonight and in Inverness on Saturday after watching his team slip up at both venues last season.
“Last season, we drew both games away from home against Kilmarnock and Inverness,” he continued. “It’s two tough venues and we want to do better than that. We want to take six points from these matches and, if we do, it’s a great little boost for us.”
Reduced dimensions on the synthetic surface at Rugby Park will inhibit Hearts’ attacking players in wide areas, such as Jamie Walker, Arnaud Djoum and Callum Paterson.
“We’ve trained all week on astro,” said Neilson. “Kilmarnock have shortened and narrowed their pitch, which makes it more difficult. They’ve put a lot of rubber down to try and slow things down and make it a more competitive game. I believe we have the players who can get a result.”