The big decision facing Hearts boss Robbie Neilson ahead of Istanbul Basaksehir test

Picking the Hearts team in recent weeks has been anything but straightforward due to the demanding schedule and growing injury list, but Robbie Neilson’s dilemma ahead Istanbul Basaksehir’s visit on Thursday could boil down to one big decision.

It won’t be at the back, where the Hearts manager is expected to stick with a back four but make two key changes. The experienced Michael Smith, rested against Livingston, will surely come in for Toby Sibbick at right-back.

Craig Halkett was “touch and go” to be fit for the 1-0 defeat by Livingston, according to Neilson, and his return following the hamstring injury that has kept him out since the first leg in Zurich, would be another massive boost.

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Teenager Lewis Neilson has done his long-term prospects any harm in the last three games, but bringing Halkett back in – if he is fully fit – is a no brainer.

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson has a selection dilemma ahead of Thursday's Europa conference League openener against Istanbul Basaksehir. Picture: Mark Scates / SNS

The return of Stephen Kingsley into the left-sided centre-back position against Livingston was a big boost and Alex Cochrane, who has been one of Hearts’ most consistent performers this season, is a stick-on for left-back.

Cammy Devlin and Peter Haring will probably be the central midfield pairing, with the Australian and Austrian well enough rested after 56 minutes and 34 minutes on the pitch respectively in West Lothian.

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Lawrence Shankland is a certain starter through the middle, with Alan Forrest occupying one of the wide positions and Barry McKay the other. That leaves one slot to fill and much may depend on how adventurous Hearts plan to be at Tynecastle against a Basaksehir team on a three-match winning streak and unbeaten in 10 at home all season.

Neilson could opt for Barry McKay in an advanced midfield or No 10 role to support Shankland and find space between the lines. He is Hearts´ most dangerous attacking player and the central role allows him to float, find space and get on the ball to hurt opponents.

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It could be a choice between Andy Halliday and Gary Mackay-Steven for Hearts Hearts boss Robbie Neilson. Picture: Ross MacDonald / SNS

If McKay does start centrally, that would mean picking Gary Mackay-Steven, Andy Halliday or even Josh Ginnelly out wide. Halliday, of course, could be also deployed in a deeper No 10 role to give Hearts more solidity in the middle of midfield and that is something the coaching staff will be giving serious consideration, with Forrest and McKay on the flanks.

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New signing Orestis Kiomourtzoglou has been registered with UEFA for the match, but Hearts are still awaiting approval of his UK visa so the German midfielder is not expected to be involved. Jorge Grant is suspended after his red card in the second leg against Zurich.

Playing Toby Sibbick in a defensive midfield role is something many Hearts fans have been calling for, but a match of this magnitude is not likely to be used to experiment with that from the start.

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New signing Steven Humphrys is likely to start on the bench, with Nathaniel Atkinson joining him if the Australian right wing-back recovers from his knock. Sibbick, Connor Smith and Euan Henderson will also provide back-up.

So the big decision on who gets the final place in the team probably boils down to Halliday versus Mackay-Steven. Both have experience and Mackay-Steven is a more natural fit on the left if McKay plays centrally. But Halliday’s experience and versatility makes him a more likely pick.