SIX Hearts players will walk a suspension tightrope in this evening’s William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-final replay with St Mirren as they attempt to avoid a booking which would preclude them from the semi-final.
Andy Driver, Scott Robinson, Ian Black, Danny Grainger, Rudi Skacel and Suso Santana would all miss the semi-final with Celtic if they are cautioned tonight and Hearts go through. Under new disciplinary rules introduced by the Scottish Football Association, two cup bookings means a suspension in the next round, and all of the above have been yellow carded in previous rounds.
Jamie Hamill missed the original tie with St Mirren having been cautioned in Hearts’ initial fifth-round match with St Johnstone and the replay. Manager Paulo Sergio will now be praying none of his key players incur the same fate as he attempts to negotiate a tricky tie and secure a semi-final place.
His case is helped somewhat by the fact St Mirren will be without playmaker Paul McGowan through suspension. However, Sergio will be without Mehdi Taouil and possibly Stephen Elliott tonight. The Moroccan midfielder has had a scan on a back injury, while the hip knock sustained by Elliott against Hibs places him in the doubtful category.
The good news for supporters travelling to Paisley is that Skacel is definitely available despite incurring a black and badly swollen eye in the collision which forced Hibs’ George Francomb off on Sunday.
The Czech midfielder is something of a lucky omen against St Mirren having scored nine goals against them in 18 months since returning to Hearts.
“Rudi is training as normal, Stephen stayed in the physio department on Monday but he’s going to work with us,” said Sergio. “Mehdi is struggling with something in his back and he had a scan on Monday. These are the problems we have at the moment.”
Taouil’s absence creates a void on the right side of midfield, for which Scott Robinson and Suso Santana are vying. The Spaniard scored a sublime solo goal in the Edinburgh derby and has yet to start a match under Sergio. Robinson’s work ethic may see him preferred for the role this evening.
In defence, Sergio must decide whether to keep faith with those who recorded a clean sheet against Hibs or reinstate captain Marius Zaliukas, who is free of suspension.