ROBBIE NEILSON insisted today that new signing Prince Buaben still needs time to reach peak condition as the Ghanaian midfielder prepared for his competitive Hearts debut.
Buaben and another recent arrival, Morgaro Gomis, are certain to start together in central midfield against Annan Athletic in the Petrofac Training Cup this afternoon. Head coach Neilson is conscious that the former has yet to achieve full fitness.
Others expected to debut today are goalkeeper Neil Alexander, centre-back Alim Ozturk and forwards Osman Sow and James Keatings. Goalkeeper Scott Gallacher is likely to start on the substitutes’ bench. Hearts’ other summer signing, striker Soufian El Hassnaoui, is still recovering from groin surgery.
Buaben last played a competitive match on April 25 whilst on loan at Partick Thistle from Carlisle United. He spent much of the close season seeking a new club until he agreed to join Hearts, initially on trial. Although pleased with the player’s work rate since he signed a one-year contract, Neilson advised that he still needs some time to reach 100 per cent fitness.
“Prince has been great, he’s getting fitter and fitter,” he told the Evening News. “It’s taking a wee bit of time to get him to 100 per cent but I’m pleased with how he’s doing. He’s working very hard in training and it will take him for him to get there.”
Buaben himself rejected suggestions that he will be an automatic first choice in the Hearts midfield this season alongside his former Dundee United colleague Gomis. He stressed he is prepared to fight it out with other midfielders Scott Robinson, Jason Holt and teenager Angus Beith.
“It’s not just about myself and Morgaro,” said Buaben. “There is Scott, Holty and Goose [Beith]. They are all good players so I don’t think it is going to be easy for me or Morgaro to just think we have got a place already. Scott and Holty are very talented players so it will be hard for all of us to keep our shirts. Every midfielder will have to give 100 per cent every day in training to prove a point to the gaffer.”
Meanwhile, Hearts have granted contract extensions to left-back Kevin McHattie and striker Dale Carrick. Both signed deals to keep them at Tynecastle until 2016, whilst 17-year-old goalkeeper Robbie Brown has joined from AC Oxgangs on a two-year contract.
Neilson explained his delight as McHattie and Carrick committed their futures to Hearts. “They’re two really promising players for us and I’m really pleased that they’re committing themselves to us for the future.
“The two boys have played a lot of first-team football for us last season and did really well. Hopefully they’ll do this same again this year. It’s a nice wee boost ahead of the Annan Athletic game. It’s positive for the club and its long-term future.”
There was also a new three-year contract for third-choice goalkeeper Jack Hamilton, who will now join Stenhousemuir on loan until January.
The 20-year-old is viewed as a long-term prospect by Hearts but is moving to the League One club to gain more match experience. He was previously on loan at East Fife and Forfar.
“It’s a good move for Jack. It’s beneficial at this point in his development for him to be playing regularly in meaningful games,” said Neilson.
“He’ll be playing at a good level with Stenhousemuir and it’ll definitely benefit him going forward.
“Jack’s a big prospect for us, so it’s an important move for him.”