Hearts' balancing act against Rangers - but John Souttar 'will be involved' against new club

That well-worn adage of taking things one game at a time does not hold up to scrutiny when it comes to Hearts’ final league game of the season.
Hearts' John Souttar should get game-time against Rangers.Hearts' John Souttar should get game-time against Rangers.
Hearts' John Souttar should get game-time against Rangers.

The Gorgie side bring the curtain down on the Premiership campaign when they face up to Rangers in a warm-up for next weekend’s Scottish Cup final and while defender Stephen Kingsley says it is up to the players to put that Hampden showdown to the back of their minds and focus on the task at hand, manager Robbie Neilson cannot afford to be as myopic and admits he will make choices throughout the 90 minutes with next weekend in mind.

“It is just another game,” stressed Kingsley, before adding, “another game in preparation for the cup final.

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“Our job is just to focus on the game at the time but there are bigger things at work.”

That includes carefully trying to balance the desire to get back to winning ways and generate positive momentum ahead of next Saturday, with the need to reintegrate key players who have been absent in recent weeks and months due to injury but who have pushed themselves to be back in the mix in time for the cup final.

“To be honest we have had it already this season [big back to back games against the same opponent],” explained Neilson. “We had Hibs in the league and then a week later we had them in the semi-final.

“Our focus just now is on this game and once that is done then we will focus on the final.

“Yes, there is a bit about Souttar coming back, Halkett coming back, about getting Smith gametime. But for us I think it is important with it being the last game at Tynecastle that we try and win it.

“Everyone is available apart from Beni Baningime. Whether they’re ready to start or come on, everybody is ready for some sort of game time. Guys like Souttar, Halkett, Smith and Devlin will all be involved in the game.

“They’re all different. We had a meeting with the medical staff and the players about how they feel and what the medical staff think and we’ll make the decision about whether they can start the game and come off or do they need to wait until later on. We know exactly what we’re wanting to do.”

Toby Sibbick being carted off injured in Wednesday night’s match at Motherwell was a reminder of how fragile cup final dreams can be. Although he feared the worst, the 22-year-old Englishman’s knock was not as bad as first anticipated and he was back in training on Friday. But, although admitting that concerns of missing out nip away at the back of players’ minds, Kingsley says there is no point in holding back as it only increases the risk of mishap.

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“The last thing you want to be doing is thinking about next week or about getting injured. You need to be completely at it. You can’t afford to not be completely at it because it’s Rangers, no matter if they make changes [ahead of the Europa League final]. And, it could be actually worse if you hang back a bit and don’t go full into challenges. You need to be fully at it. I know we will be.”