Two Hearts players return to face Hibs but four others ruled out

Hearts will welcome back defender Nathaniel Atkinson and winger Gary Mackay-Steven for Saturday’s encounter with Hibs, manager Robbie Neilson confirmed.

The Australian was ill last week and missed the trip to Ross County, whilst Mackay-Steven has been absent since breaking a bone in his hand in the 2-2 draw with Dundee United on March 5.

Both trained at Riccarton and will be available for the first 3pm Saturday Edinburgh derby in 16 years this weekend. However, the match will come too soon for midfielder Cammy Devlin and defender Michael Smith, who are now running after hamstring and back injuries respectively.

“Gary and Nathaniel are back so that’s good news,” said manager Robbie Neilson. “Gary had the issue with his hand and had surgery so we’ve been waiting on that to heal. Nathaniel was ill last week after international duty with Australia.

Hearts players are put through their paces at Riccarton.

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“It wasn’t Covid but he was drained after two games and all the travelling involved. Toby Sibbick came in at right-back against County and did well for us.

“We’ve got Michael Smith back running and Cammy Devlin back running and for both of them this will come too soon. But maybe Cammy for the Scottish Cup semi-final next week.”

Defender John Souttar is expected to miss both Hibs games with an ongoing ankle injury, and midfielder Beni Baningime is out until later this year after damaging his cruciate ligament.

“John is okay, he had a wee tidy up and the hope is that we will get him back for the last few games of the season. That’s got to be his aim,” said Neilson. “Firstly, he wants to get back playing then there are big Scotland games coming up over the summer so he has to get himself into a position where he can get back in the squad again.”

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Neilson has utilised his squad to help offset a raft of injuries to important players in recent weeks. They are slowly beginning to return as Hearts prepare to meet Hibs in the Premiership at Tynecastle before next week’s semi-final against the same opponents at Hampden Park.

“I think everyone goes through that period of injuries,” added Neilson. “We’ve probably been quite lucky in that for most of the season we’ve only had a couple of wee niggles here and there.

“We’ve gone through a period where we’ve lost a number of players and because we don’t have a big squad externally it looked as if we were low on numbers. But the players who came in are good quality. Peter Haring has come in, Andy Halliday has come in, Aaron McEneff has come in, Sibbick, Taylor Moore. They’ve done well because they’re good players.”

Both Hearts-Hibs fixtures earlier this season ended goalless, but this will be Shaun Maloney’s first visit to Gorgie as a manager. Neilson has noted the change in playing style at Easter Road since the former Scotland internationalist took charge.

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“They’ve changed managers, so they were 4-4-2 and now they’re 3-4-3, 3-5-2, whatever you want to call it,” he said. “They’re more possession-based, but ultimately it’s about winning football matches. Whatever they play we’ll be looking to beat them.”

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