Soufian El Hassnaoui should finally be back in a Hearts shirt at the start of next month, head coach Robbie Neilson revealed today.
The Dutch striker is scheduled to take part in full training next week after taking longer than expected to recover from a persistent ankle problem.
Full-back Kevin McHattie is also close to returning after knee ligament damage. Both should be back in first-team action at some point in February, much to Neilson’s delight. The two players were injured by challenges from Rangers players at Tynecastle in November and have not played since.
“Soufian joined in the warm-ups in training this week and is building himself back up. He’s desperate to get back. When the team is doing well, guys are desperate to play,” Neilson told the Evening News.
“Soufian will hopefully train fully next week and maybe the week after that he will play in an under-20 game. Kevin should play in an under-20 game the week after that to get a bit of game time. After that, they should both be back.
“Soufian’s been out since the Rangers game at home. He’s had a real problem with his ankle. We got it scanned after about a month and we realised it was really quite severe. It’s been disappointing not to have him but he’ll be back involved soon enough.”
Ahead of this afternoon’s league meeting with Falkirk at Tynecastle, Neilson stressed Hearts must treat the opposition with caution. Peter Houston’s side are on a fine run of only one defeat in their last nine matches and gave Hearts a fright last time. The Edinburgh club held out for a narrow 2-1 at the Falkirk Stadium in November after a difficult second half.
“Falkirk are on a good run of form. We played them at Falkirk and we dominated the first half because they sat off us,” recalled Neilson.
“Then Housty changed it and they pressed us in the second half and made it really difficult for us. It was probably the hardest second half we’ve had and we kind of hung on. If they do that again it will be a hard game for us.”