Robbie Neilson insists he will field a “strong team” against Kilmarnock in the League Cup tonight and won’t be picking a side with one eye on Saturday’s Premiership trip to Celtic Park.
Hearts travel to Rugby Park looking to bounce back from a three-game losing streak in the league. While the head coach has been known to field fringe men in cup games in the past, he insists he will be picking the team he views as the best equipped to win the third-round tie and will not be making a point of keeping key men in reserve for the weekend.
“We need to make sure we take care of this game and then we’ll focus on Celtic on Saturday,” said Neilson. “Last season the cups were not as high priority for us as the league and getting promoted. This season we are taking all the cup competitions seriously and they are important to us. Although the league is the main priority for us, the cup is high on our list.”
Neilson insists Kilmarnock’s plastic pitch won’t influence his team selection. Sam Nicholson was left out when Hearts played on artificial playing surfaces in the Championship last season due to a slight issue with his knee, while Jamie Walker, Blazej Augustyn and Miguel Pallardo have been struggling with injuries lately. However, the head coach says he feels no need to protect any of his players from an artificial surface which he feels is of a better quality than the ones they played on last term.
Asked if the pitch would prompt him to rest anyone, he said: “No, the majority of the boys are getting there fitness-wise and I think another game will help them. Nicholson’s knee should be fine on. The pitch is decent down there – it’s not like Alloa. It’s a good surface. These pitches can be better than grass pitches at certain times of the year.”
Neilson hopes to have Morgaro Gomis back in the squad tonight. The midfielder has missed Hearts’ last two games following the death of his father just before the defeat at Inverness a week past Friday but was expected to arrive back in Edinburgh last night. “It’s been a difficult period for him but I spoke to him and he says he’s feeling fit and mentally OK to play. If he feels ready, he’ll be starting. I’m pretty sure he’ll be desperate to play, but we’ll make that decision together.”
• Kilmarnock have signed former Hearts goalkeeper Mark Ridgers on an emergency loan deal from St Mirren ahead of their League Cup third-round tie against the Jambos tonight.
The Rugby Park club found themselves with a keeper crisis after Jamie MacDonald went off injured against St Johnstone on Saturday. Conor Brennan came on in the 2-1 win over Saints but he is cup-tied because he played for Stranraer on loan in the previous rounds, while on-loan Swansea goalkeeper Oliver Davies is injured and 18-year-old Devlin Mackay is on loan at Derby. That left 16-year-old academy player Ryan Millar on standby to make his debut. SPFL rules permit teams to sign goalkeepers outside the transfer window under exceptional circumstances and the Ayrshire club were granted permission to bring in Ridgers until January.