Hearts’ under-21 side face Irish Premier Division outfit Waterford in the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup tonight in the Republic of Ireland and the Edinburgh team could be coming up against a line-up younger than their own.
Waterford, who are making their first appearance in the competition, were due to play Dundalk in a FAI Cup quarter-final clash this weekend, however it was postponed to allow their meeting with the Tynecastle Colts to go ahead, much to the disappointment of manager Alan Reynolds.
The Blues boss said: “I am sorry we entered this cup now. It dilutes the FAI Cup which is a massive competition.
“If we play on a Monday night with the kids back to school, the crowd will be down. Playing a cup quarter-final on a Monday night is poor.
“The game against Dundalk is on Monday so it will possibly be the under-19s that face Hearts.”
Former Inverness Caledonian Thistle attacker Zack Elbouzedi will miss out as he has been called up by the Irish under-21 side.
Hearts have seen off League 2 sides Albion Rovers and Cowdenbeath on route to the third round, with coach Andy Kirk looking for his team to complete a hat-trick tonight.
The Edinburgh side are without defender Alex Petkov, who is on loan at Clyde, as he is on international duty with the Bulgarian under-21 squad, however Harry Cochrane and Anthony McDonald, who are at Dunfermline on loan, will travel, as will Chris Hamilton and Connor Smith, who are at Cowdenbeath on a similar basis.
“This is a good experience with the preparations for the game, travelling across, facing a different type of football. In that respect, it’s a good learning tool,” said Kirk.
“I’ve got some video footage of Waterford, I’ve spoken to a few people and we have some background on how they play. We will be as prepared as we can.”
The 5,500-capacity Waterford Regional Sports Centre is home to Hearts’ opponents, who sit seventh in the ten-team Irish Premier Division. Like any community sports facility, pitch bookings must be made in advance.
“They gave us three different times and Friday night suited both parties best,” explained Kirk. “We have a wee bit of travelling to do. The flight times allow the boys to get to the hotel and have some lunch, get some rest, then do a last bit of preparation before heading to the stadium.
“In that sense, it’s got a wee bit of a European feel to it in terms of travelling away, so it’s definitely a good thing for the boys.
“We have prepared as well as the first team would. There has been no expense spared in trying to do things right for the players. We’ve done our bit for them, now hopefully they can do their bit. It’s a cup game so you need to win to progress.”
Kirk added: “It’s tough playing a senior team. The wee bit of experience and strength we lack can be a factor but, if our boys are all on their game, we can win the game. We have to be in that frame of mind because I believe we can win.
“They all have to do their jobs. You get punished for mistakes the higher the level you go, but we will be quite a dangerous team for Waterford as well. Getting the ball down is our strength.”