Stephen Kingsley's absence explained as Hearts are urged to be relentless
Stephen Kingsley was left out of Hearts’ win against St Mirren on Friday as a precautionary measure. The defender is expected to feature on Wednesday against Aberdeen at Tynecastle.
Since sustaining concussion against Dundee United on Christmas Eve, the 28-year-old has missed four games as Hearts continue building momentum after the World Cup break. Management stated that Kingsley would be available against St Mirren but then took a late decision not to risk him.
He is now training fully and should rejoin the matchday squad for the Premiership encounter with Aberdeen, which precedes Sunday’s Scottish Cup trip to Easter Road. “Kingsley will be back for Wednesday, definitely. He was touch-and-go for Friday night. We just felt it was a wee bit too early for him. He has been training for the last few days,” explained the Hearts manager, Robbie Neilson.
There is slight concern over striker Lawrence Shankland and defender Alex Cochrane following Friday’s game. “I think Shanks should be fine, he rolled his ankle,” said Neilson. “Cochrane should be alright. He just got a tight hamstring. With the next two games coming up, we thought it was better to make sure he is okay.”
The Scottish Cup Edinburgh derby with Hibs is at the back of Neilson’s mind but he is prioritising the Aberdeen fixture for now. “We will pick the team that we think is going to win the game on Wednesday,” he stressed. “Yes, Sunday’s game is massive for us, but the next game is always the most important here. This will be a home game in front of an 18,000 crowd.
"You know it’s a tough game whenever you play Aberdeen. They beat us 2-0 up there last time so they will be ready for it, that’s for sure. They are coming off the back of a cup semi-final and for us it’s a great game to look forward to.”
Friday’s win – courtesy of Barrie McKay’s first-half goal – combined with Saturday’s results elsewhere in the Premiership leaves Hearts four points ahead of Livingston in third place. Their pre-season target was to finish third once again, with the hope that they can secure European group-stage football for a second successive year.
“We are delighted with the result against St Mirren,” said Neilson. “It’s always difficult playing teams back-to-back, you can end up nullifying each other. I thought we played really well in the first half and got a great goal. We didn’t move the ball as quickly and didn’t switch it as quickly in the second half. At 1-0, St Mirren are always a threat with set-plays and throw-ins. You are always on edge a wee bit.”
Neilson said he is pleased with a seven-game unbeaten run which includes four wins since the World Cup break ended. However, he underlined the importance of maintaining momentum and refusing to relent.
“It’s been good but I say this all the time at Hearts, it’s about the next game. The boys played on Friday night, they were in on Saturday, we’ve got Aberdeen on Wednesday and it’s a massive game. Hopefully we can extend that gap again. The boys have been great but we just need to make sure we keep doing it because it’s important we get that third place.”