ROBBIE Neilson was able to heave a sigh of relief after Alim Ozturk survived an injury scare as Hearts concluded their Irish training camp with a lively 4-2 triumph against Shelbourne.
Goals from Gary Oliver, Sam Nicholson, Jordan McGhee and a maiden strike in maroon for Juanma Delgado ensured a satisfactory trip to the Emerald Isle ended in winning fashion, cancelling out a James English brace.
There were initial fears that the result would be entirely overshadowed by an injury to one of the contenders to be Hearts’ new club captain when Ozturk limped off after just 26 minutes.
Wearing the armband on his first appearance since undergoing a minor stomach operation in the summer, he was replaced by Jahmal Howlett-Mundle, sparking fears of a recurrence of his previous complaint.
However, a half-time assessment by first-team physio Karen Gibson diagnosed his discomfort as a tight thigh muscle, with the Turk expected to make a swift recovery.
Similarly, Morgaro Gomis and Miguel Pallardo are not considered to be major fitness concerns despite sitting out yesterday’s win.
“Alim’s thigh just tightened up a wee bit,” said Neilson. “He has missed the first bit of pre-season after his operation at the end of last year.
“Also, he is following Ramadan at this time of year so he is not eating and does not have normal periods of drinking. He was maybe a bit dehydrated as well. It’s better to just take him off.
“Aside from that, it was a really good afternoon. Hopefully we’ve got a lot of fitness from that because it was a really competitive game against a team in the middle of their season.”
Perhaps reflecting their match sharpness, it was the hosts who made the early running in the splitting Tolka Park sunshine. Philip Hughes, Shels’ heavy-set striker, forced a sensational save from Neil Alexander before English shot wide when clean through on goal.
However, the hosts were made to pay for their profligacy when Gary Oliver latched on to a hopeful long ball. In truth, there would have been little danger if keeper Greg Murray had not foolishly decided to rush from his goal in an attempt to intercept. Speedy Oliver got their first, rounded the keeper, and prodded the ball into an empty net.
A mix up in the Hearts defence allowed English to equalise in the second half against the run of play, but parity lasted just two minutes before Nicholson intervened. A poor clearance from Conor Keely fell straight to the feet of the winger and he made no mistake in dispatching a low finish past Murray.
McGhee was the unlikely scorer of Hearts’ third when he curled a sumptuous free-kick from 20 yards into the top-corner, before English halved arrears with his second goal, rising high to convert a Gareth Coughlin cross.
Gloss was added to the scoreline with the last kick of the game when Juanma calmly converted an Osman Sow cross.
“I was delighted to get Juanma on the score-sheet,” added Neilson. “When a new striker comes in you want to see them hit the net right away, otherwise pressure can build.
“He’s got great quality, you can see that, and it was good for him to get off the mark.”
Shelbourne: Murray, O’Connor Robinson, Heaney, Kehoe, McGlade, Robinson, Doyle, Earley (Coughlan 36), Hughes (J Donnelly 60), English.
Hearts: Alexander (Hamilton 45), Paterson (Smith 45), Ozturk (Howlett-Mundle 26), Augustyn (McGhee 45), McHattie (Henderson 45), Oliver (King 45), Anderson (Buchanan 45), Bajraktari (Buaben 45), Walker (Nicholson 45), Reilly (Sow 45), El Hassnaoui (Juanma 45).
Referee: Tomas Connolly. Attendance: 374