ROBBIE NEILSON is considering throwing Prince Buaben, Blazej Augustyn and Juanma Delgado into Hearts’ opening Premiership match with St Johnstone.
The head coach was unhappy with his team’s performance in last night’s 4-2 League Cup win over Arbroath and is ready to make changes. Midfielder Buaben and centre-back Augustyn will return to the squad after being left out as a precaution last night. Striker Juanma played the last 23 minutes as a substitute but Neilson was irked by the display and is contemplating naming all three in his starting line-up for Sunday.
Defensive frailties were evident throughout the evening as Arbroath gave Hearts a genuine fright at Tynecastle. They led 1-0 through David Gold at the interval and were only 3-2 behind before an own goal by Craig Wilson in stoppage time put the first-round tie beyond them.
Neilson admitted afterwards that Hearts’ performance was unacceptable and said he thought his players treated the game like a pre-season friendly. He warned that another sub-standard effort against St Johnstone would cost them dearly. He had left some players out to ensure their availability this weekend and Buaben, Augustyn and Juanma are at the forefront of his thoughts.
“Blazej had an Achilles problem but he’s trained for the last six days so he’s full-on. I just didn’t want to risk him last night,” Neilson explained to the Evening News.
“Achilles problems really need to be bang on before a player comes back. Muscle problems you can get away with but it wasn’t worth the risk with Blazej.
“He’s ready and he’ll be fine for Sunday. He’s played a number of games during pre-season.
“I looked at last night’s game and I wanted to do enough to get through. We just did enough, so it was worth the gamble. I didn’t want to gamble by bringing players in who I wasn’t quite sure about and who might break down. It wasn’t a great performance but we got through with no injuries.
“Buaben will be ready for Sunday. He’s been training and he wanted to play last night but I didn’t let him. He’ll be back for St Johnstone and that’s two huge players available for us. Also, Juanma got twenty minutes last night, so that gives us an option for Sunday as well.”
Asked about the display last night, Neilson did not hold back with his verdict. “The first half wasn’t acceptable,” he complained. “We did okay in the first five minutes and I think the players thought we’d just cruise to a result. It doesn’t work like that. It’s a bit of a wake-up call for us, all of us. We have a huge game on Sunday and we need to be far better.
“After the first five minutes we went flat. We didn’t lift ourselves at all. It was passing for the sake of it, no intent. The second half was a bit better. I think the players still viewed the game as a pre-season game, with the atmosphere and how we went about it. When St Johnstone come on Sunday, it will be a totally different ball game.”