Why Hearts' team is about to change over the weeks ahead
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The Edinburgh club expect to be without goalkeeper Craig Gordon, right-back Michael Smith and striker Liam Boyce during this month’s international break. Smith and midfielder Andy Halliday are also suspended for the upcoming Scottish Cup tie away at Brora Rangers.
Manager Robbie Neilson has enjoyed the continuity of a fairly settled side for several weeks. With Gordon a contender for the Scotland squad and Smith and Boyce likely to be called up by Northern Ireland, other players will be asked to deputise.
Ayr United visit Tynecastle Park on Saturday fresh from appointing David Hopkin manager and Neilson admitted he will begin to prioritise the match fitness of people who will soon be needed to step in.
“We’ve had a settled team but we’ve got the international games coming up so there will be a number of absentees there,” he explained. “We have suspensions in the Scottish Cup, so a couple will be missing for that. So it’s important we use these next games and training to get the guys as fit as possible.
“Other than Steven Naismith, everyone is going to be fine this weekend. I don't expect Naisy to be available for Saturday but everyone else is good.
“It is interesting to see Hoppy back in and to see what he does with the team. I watched Ayr on Tuesday [against Raith Rovers] and I thought they did very well.
“They have been consistent in their shape for the last four or five years. They were playing a 4-2-3-1 system so it will be interesting to see whether they revert to David’s 3-5-2 or 4-5-1.
“It’s always the same at this time of the year. The managerial merry-go-round kicks in and the chances are you will face teams that have new manager so you need to be ready for it.”
With a 14-point advntage at the top of the Championship table, Hearts are closing in on autmoatic promotion. Neilson is determined to maintain motivation and reach another Scottish Cup final as well as win the title.
“I don’t think it’s difficult to keep our edge,” he said. “We speak about it regularly: When you play for Hearts you need to win every game, regardless of whether you are in the Championship or not.
“Those standards and demands need to be there every day in training. On a Saturday, you should be better than the person playing against you. You should win the game and, playing for Hearts, you need to understand that.
“We have an important game on Saturday, then go to Arbroath the following Saturday, then it’s up to Brora in the cup. We’ve got to the final in the last two seasons and we’d like to do that again.”
Neilson also offered an update on contract talks with Hearts midfielder Andy Irving. “We've offered Andy a contract and we're still waiting to hear back from the agent and the player.
“We think it's a good offer and hopefully he will accept. Andy is still performing on a Saturday so, from my perspective, that's the most important thing for him. He's shown a maturity to concentrate on training and games. Hopefully we will come to an agreement.”