‘Hearts have what it takes to beat Celtic’

Adam Eckersley, right, is set to start against Celtic after appearing as a substitute in Saturday's win over Rangers. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Adam Eckersley, right, is set to start against Celtic after appearing as a substitute in Saturday's win over Rangers. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

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Adam Eckersley is adamant Hearts possess the quality to complete an Old Firm double when Celtic visit Tynecastle on William Hill Scottish Cup duty on Sunday.

The capital club are in buoyant mood after stretching their lead at the summit of the Championship to nine points thanks to a crucial 2-0 win against Rangers last weekend.

However, there is no time to bask in the glory of that triumph as a mouthwatering fourth round clash with Celtic looms large on the horizon.

Hearts have already succumbed to defeat by Celtic this term, Ronny Deila’s men recording a 3-0 League Cup win at Parkhead – a match in which Eckersley suffered the ignominy of netting an own goal.

However, Osman Sow missed a penalty with the game balanced at 1-0 that evening and, after reflecting on an “unlucky” trip to Glasgow, Eckersley believes Hearts are capable of stunning the champions in Gorgie.

A confident Eckersley said: “Beating Celtic will be a tall order but we definitely have the squad to do that. Especially at Tynecastle with the backing we get from the fans, anything can happen. The atmosphere is fantastic and it makes you look forward to putting your boots on and performing.

“We played Celtic earlier on in the season and I think we were a bit unlucky – and hopefully there is no repeat of the own goal from me! That’s just one of those things, and I’m really looking forward to the rematch. The league is very important and if we can do well in the cup then it’s a real bonus.”

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Eckersley will come into the Hearts side against Celtic after first-choice left-back Kevin McHattie was ruled out for six weeks due to medial ligament damage in his knee.

The injury was sustained during a reckless challenge by Rangers striker Kenny Miller, who was booked for the tackle and substituted minutes later.

Eckersley has plenty of sympathy for his injured colleague, but stopped short of criticising Rangers’ approach. Instead, he admitted to lapping up the physicality of a fiery contest at Tynecastle.

The former Manchester United defender said: “It’s a real shame for Kevin [McHattie], but that’s why we have a deep squad.

“I went through the same thing two weeks ago when I picked up an injury, but it’s just a part of football.

“It is something we will have to deal with over the course of a long season. I hope Kevin makes a quick recovery.

“It was very physical but I enjoy that side of the game. It suits me perfectly and I was expecting it.”

Fellow defender Callum Paterson has put Stevie Smith’s horror challenge in last weekend’s clash down to a moment of “silliness” by the experienced Rangers midfielder.

Smith was given his marching orders after 21 minutes following a studs-up tackle on the Hearts youngster.

Both Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson and Rangers manager Ally McCoist agreed that it was the defining moment of the contest, with the visitors having been the dominant force until that point.

However, Paterson, who received his first Scotland call-up for the recent encounters against Republic of Ireland and England, recovered to complete the full match and was reluctant to criticise Smith.

Paterson said: “I think the challenge was just made in the heat of the moment. I’m sure he won’t do it again, it was just silliness from him at the time.”

Meanwhile, Hearts captain Danny Wilson faces a race against time to face Celtic.

The Scotland international has been sidelined since aggravating a hamstring tear in last month’s Edinburgh derby draw against Hibernian, with Brad McKay impressing in his absence.

Neilson insists Wilson is expected to take part in training this week, but he has vowed not to risk the “borderline” 22-year-old against Celtic if there is any danger of the injury flaring up again.

Neilson said: “The league is the main thing for us so I need to make sure he’s 100 per cent. He’ll do full training with the team this week and then we’ll see. He’s kind of borderline whether I want to take a risk with him or not. I’ll need to speak to him and see how he feels.

“What I don’t want to do is put him in a week too early and then he breaks down again. I want to make sure he’s bang on because he will be a huge player for us this season.”

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