Alim Ozturk looks to cement place in Hearts defence

Hearts captain Alim Ozturk is eager to face Kilmarnock after making his comeback in midweek. Picture: SNS Group
Hearts captain Alim Ozturk is eager to face Kilmarnock after making his comeback in midweek. Picture: SNS Group
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Alim Ozturk has a message for Igor Rossi and Blazej Augustyn as he begins the task of re-establishing himself in the Hearts team. He is captain, he is back and he expects to reclaim his position in the centre of defence.

Augustyn’s failure to train following the 2-2 draw with Celtic meant it was a fairly straightforward decision for head coach Robbie Neilson to make when he named his team for Wednesday’s league clash with Dundee United. After overcoming recent hernia problems Ozturk stepped straight back in at centre-half alongside Rossi in the 3-2 win.

But with Augustyn expected to come back into the reckoning for today’s trip to Kilmarnock, Neilson finds himself suffering from the type of condition afflicting the majority of the Scottish population since Thursday night. In his case, however, the headache he is suffering from is a good one to have.

Neilson must decide whether to stick with the Ozturk-Rossi partnership. Or does he opt to hand Augustyn his place back, at the expense of either Rossi or Ozturk? There is another option as well; Neilson could deploy Rossi at left-back in place of the currently struggling Juwon Oshaniwa. However, the head coach’s stiff defence of Oshaniwa a couple of days ago suggests he is willing to see him play on through this difficult patch.

So it could mean Ozturk might have to wait before he can enjoy a regular run back in the team. Not that the skipper sounds as if he is fretting over the prospect of failing to dislodge his centre-half rivals.

“Blazej and Igor did well but I have confidence in myself and I am the captain of the club,” he said. “I’m back and I want to play, we’ll see what is going to happen. It is no problem, for me. I have confidence in myself.”

After a three-month absence through injury no one would be surprised if it takes Ozturk some time to reach peak form and fitness. But he has played several games for the Under-20s and is raring to go.

“I realised how much I missed it,” he said. “Those three months are frustrating and even when you’re sitting on the bench against Celtic – you want to play.”

He is not fazed by the prospect of Kilmarnock’s synthetic pitch. He does not expect it to have adverse effects on him so soon after his return from injury. Indeed, it was at Kilmarnock where he played his last first-team game before making his comeback earlier this week. But he is confident there is no link between the injury and the pitch.

“I don’t care [about the pitch] because I played 90 minutes for the Under-20s on a plastic pitch at Riccarton a couple of weeks ago,” he added. “It’s not a problem. The question for me when I played for the first team, how would it feel after the game? I feel good, I played 90 and I didn’t struggle. Fitness-wise it felt good.”

Ozturk was further satisfied by the result in his comeback game, which means Hearts are now just seven points behind second-place Aberdeen, over whom they have a game in hand. “We still try to finish in the top six,” said Ozturk. “But if you can finish in top three why not? Last year we played in the Championship and we’re doing really well for coming back in our first year. I think the top six is where we want to be. But if you look to the table, you say to yourself, why not in the top three or four?”

Neilson is wary of inconsistent Kilmarnock’s threat. Gary Locke’s side might be 11th in the league but they have every reason to look upwards rather than down.

“They are maybe near the bottom of the table but they are still only five points off the top six,” said Neilson. “They have a carrot there. They will be desperate to beat us.”

The head coach’s thoughts also strayed to his plans for the transfer window, which opens today. Top of the list is another striker to supplement what is already at Tynecastle.

“It’s like anything, we’re looking for quality,” he said. “We’d like to try to get another striker in. If you look at the three guys we have there is Osman [Sow], [Gavin] Reilly and Juanma.

“We could probably do with another. If we are playing with two up front and we have one out it limits our options a little bit.

“We are in the process of looking through things and trying to get something sorted. But at this time of year it can be difficult to get what you want.”