Rest and rehydration have been pinpointed as the key factors in ensuring the virus-hit Hearts players are in prime condition for Friday’s Tynecastle showdown with Aberdeen.
The squad will return to training tomorrow morning after their Riccarton base was shut down for two days in order to clear the gastroenteritis bug that swept through several players and led to the postponement on Monday of last night’s Premiership match at Inverness.
John Hill, Hearts’ sports scientist, will have a prominent role in assessing the condition of the players when they return to work in preparation for the Dons match.
He told the Evening News: “The guys who have been affected have had advice from the doctors and a few boys have text wanting a bit more info, but generally they’ve got the same guidelines as anyone else would have – rest, recover, increase their fluid intake and eat when they can, if they can.
“The biggest aspect of it is making sure they rehydrate. We’ve spoken to the doctors and there’s no miracle cure, so the most important thing is that they rehydrate and we can help them do that.
“With the lads who have been particularly bad we can do some weighing to check whether their fluid balance is right. If somebody comes back a couple of kilos lighter, it shows we need to rehydrate them and top them up with electrolytes until they get back up to a level where they’re functioning.”
Hill explained that training is likely to be kept light tomorrow, but insists that won’t have a diminishing effect on their sharpness for Friday’s match.
“With the ones who’ve been affected, we’ll need to keep their training light to see how they’ve recovered,” he said. “We’ll monitor their heart rate and GPS at a low-intensity level and make sure we’re not putting too many demands on their bodies.
“We’ll speak to all the individuals who’ve been affected to see how they’ve coped, how they’ve recovered and what they feel able to do. The guys themselves are going to be the best source of info in that regard. They know their bodies and will know if they can push it or if they’ll need to sit back and take another day’s recovery before the game.
“As long as they’ve recovered, their natural fitness will ensure they can cope with the game on Friday. We won’t need to take any great leaps in terms of their fitness. We’re at a point in the season where they’ve got a lot of training under their belts, so it’s just a case of ensuring that they’ve recovered from the virus and are fresh enough to perform in the Aberdeen game.”
The Hearts backroom staff have already dealt with a player being affected by the virus before a match after defender John Souttar – the first Hearts player to be laid low after it was contracted in the Scotland Under-21 camp – was struck down ahead of the 3-1 defeat at Celtic last weekend. Hill explained that ultimately the players themselves will know whether or not they feel ready for action.
“John was off after being affected by it before the Celtic game but he declared himself fit to play, and we had to trust that he could get through it,” said Hill. “The doctors will do their checks and if they have any concerns about a player not being able to play, that will be highlighted to [head coach] Robbie Neilson before squad selection. In terms of my checks, I’ll measure their heart rate and check if there are any red flags, in terms of a significantly increased heart rate for a low-intensity workload, and if they’re finding it hard, then that indicates that they’re struggling. Generally though, it will come down to speaking to the players.”