Hearts reaction: Aware of what's at stake, good news on injury front, Barrie McKay, player ratings
Motherwell at home, Rangers away, and then back to Tynecastle to face Livingston in the final match before the World Cup break. None of the matches are a gimme but, aware that they are on the home straight, Hearts seem to be finding some reserves of energy and drive in an attempt to head into that domestic hiatus as high up the table as possible.
They travel to Istanbul this week to face Basaksehir in their final Europa Conference League match of this campaign and will want to finish as well as possible, but their minds have already started to drift towards next season’s competition and making sure that they book a swift return.
It is a domain that has tested them severely at times but it has also excited everyone at the club, especially the players, coaching staff, and the fans, who have come together through the process. The supporters have also rediscovered their collective voice. That is why finishing the term in third place is so important. Despite the burden of the extra demands and the injuries, Hearts’ win over Ross County moved them to within pouncing distance of that spot. Depending on results elsewhere, another win, over Motherwell next weekend, could take them there. Then they just have to worry about staying there.
Fitness and form
There finally appears to be promising news on the injuries front. With a full first team missing a major chunks of the season so far, manager Robbie Neilson has revealed that a number of key personnel are back running and the hope is that with another week of full training under their belts, a few of the long-term absentees could feature in next week’s league match, with others likely to be eased back in before the World Cup shutdown.
It is unlikely they will be risked in the match in Istanbul but Kye Rowles, Nathaniel Atkinson and Cammy Devlin are desperate for the all-clear and a return to action as they look to prove their worth ahead of Australia’s World Cup squad selection, while Craig Halkett and Stephen Kingsley are being monitored. Peter Haring looks to have recovered from his concussion and will be available. But such has been the efforts of those who have deputised, Neilson will have some tough decisions to make when he has everyone back fit and in form.
If there is a player who will be hoping that some down time can spark a revival, it is the mercurial winger. Relied on heavily last term and in the early stages of this term, he seems to have depleted his energy levels. Still trying hard in games, the sprinkling of magic dust that he has applied so tellingly in the past is missing at the moment. There are still flickers of what he is capable of but he is not the major danger he has been in the past. Hearts will hope that giving him some time to recharge the batteries will have the desired effect and that his sparkle will return when the Premiership action does, in mid December.
Gordon 7; M Smith 7, Sibbick 7, Cochrane 8, Halliday 8; Kiomourtzoglou 8; Ginnelly 6, Snodgrass 8, C Smith 6, McKay 6; Shankland 8. Subs: Neilson 6, Forrest 5, Grant 6, Henderson 5.