Robbie Neilson provides Stephen Kinglsey update; prepares to promote Hearts youngsters; and hails Toby Sibbick
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson is prepared to promote more young players into his first-team squad for the trips to Dingwall and Istanbul after Stephen Kingsley picked up another hamstring injury against RFS at Tynecastle.
The left-sided defender will be assessed in the coming days after limping off midway through the second half of the 2-1 victory over the Latvian visitors in Hearts’ final home match of their Europa Conference League campaign. The 28-year-old has already had a spell on the sidelines with a hamstring injury this season and centre-back Craig Halkett is on the road to recovery from a similar problem.
“He’s just tweaked his hamstring a little bit – we’ll need to see over the next couple of days,” said Neilson, who was pleased with Lewis Neilson’s late foray and lauded the man-of-the-match performance produced by Toby Sibbick. “It’s disappointing, because we just seem to be one little niggle after another with players. But I thought Lewis came on and did really well so we’ll see how we are for Sunday.”
An injury to another defender is the last thing Hearts need and Neilson admitted he may be forced to promote more youth players to help bulk up the squad. “There’s not going to be much rotation because there’s not much squad left at the moment,” he said. “We knew it was going to be a tough schedule – 26 games in the first three months of the campaign. We’ve got Ross County, Istanbul, Motherwell then we go Rangers away and Livi before we get to the break. We’ve got a lot of hard games to play in and we’ve just got to take one at a time.”
He added: “We’ve got a good group of young players – Finlay on the bench, Neilson, Smith, Henderson coming on. We’ve got a good group here and we’ll see who is available for Sunday. We might take a couple of younger ones up. We’ll just wait and see.”
Sibbick has been supported by teammates through what has been a tough time, and Neilson was delighted with the English defender’s commanding performance. “I’m delighted for him as I would be for any player,” he added. “That confidence of the performance, but also the confidence of the other players to back him, which they’ve done. We all know he’s a good player, we see it in training every day. It’s about bringing that onto the pitch and he’s managed to do that in the last couple of games.”
He added: “Toby has had a hard time recently, when he came in he hasn’t hit the levels he’d have wanted consistently. But there have been flashes of what we had tonight, he just has to maintain that. To his credit he has worked hard, he’s waited for his opportunity and he has come in tonight to European football and played like that. He now has to maintain that aggression, that intensity, and concentration levels because there is no doubt about his ability.”
The victory ended a run of six games without a win in all competitions, but Neilson feels there are still aspects of his team’s performance that need to improve. “I just think we can be better on the ball,” he explained. “When you play at this level you can’t turn the ball over as much as we did, when we play against Istanbul next week if we do that we’ll be in trouble. We have said all along this is a big learning curve. When you play at this level you have to work back like we did, but also have that quality in possession.
“I was delighted with the first 20-25 minutes, we started the game really well. We had a lot of intensity, we had the fans behind us, we managed to get two goals. Then we took our foot off the gas a wee bit and allowed RFS to get into the game. They scored a fantastic goal and we never really got control after that, which was disappointing.
But he added: “The biggest thing for me was hearing the fans roar. They come to European games wanting to see goals and we’ve not managed to score as many as we would like here. We got the roar of the crowd and it really kicked us on. RFS, in the first 15 to 20 minutes when we brought the energy and the fans brought the energy, they really struggled with that intensity. That shows what we can do.”