Jamie Hamill ruled out as Paulo Sergio plans a shuffle for Aberdeen game

HEARTS manager Paulo Sergio plans to ring the changes for his team’s visit to Aberdeen tomorrow night, and is confident that competition for places in the squad remains high despite the loss of several players last week.

Eggert Jonsson has signed for Wolves, Ryan Stevenson has made himself unavailable in protest over the squad’s unpaid salaries and Jamie Hamill could be on the sidelines for a week or two after injuring an ankle in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Motherwell.

Darren Barr replaced Hamill then and is set to continue at right-back, while the other second-half-substitutes, Rudi Skacel and Andrew Driver, will also challenge for starting places at Pittodrie as fifth-placed Hearts bid for their third win in a row.

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“I told the players that maybe I’m going to make some changes for Aberdeen, and I’m sure I will, because I trust them,” Sergio said on the club’s website. “I hope when I put them on the pitch they are ready to grab their chances and make the Hearts fans happy. So I trust we can make some changes for the Aberdeen game and fight for the points.”

Sergio addded that he would take nothing for granted against Aberdeen who, despite losing to Caley Thistle at the weekend, are still just eight points behind Hearts thanks to recent wins over St Johnstone and Hibernian. But the Portuguese boss said he believed that Hearts would win if they played to their abilities – as they did in a thoroughly convincing win over third-placed Motherwell and in a 4-0 victory over Dunfermline a week earlier.

“Aberdeen are close to the others,” he added. “It’s a tight league, there’s not a big difference between the teams. Everybody can beat us, but we can beat everybody too. If we do our job properly, I trust that we can pick up the points at Aberdeen.

“I want my team playing in every place the same way. We should show our attitude, our identity, and I’m sure we’re going to do it there.” With left-back Danny Grainger also on the injured list, Hearts are stretched in defence, especially without the versatile Jonsson, who has been called upon at full-back and centre-half. Ryan McGowan has proved a more than able deputy for Grainger, but Barr, who was making only his second appearance of the season on Saturday, has some way to go before he can emulate Hamill, who has been one of the team’s most consistent performers this season.

The return of several loan players next week will strengthen Sergio’s options, with some of the club’s most promising young players due to return from Raith Rovers. Goalkeeper Mark Ridgers and Wales under-21 striker Rob Ogleby are set to report back to Tynecastle from East Fife, both having tweeted yesterday that the postponed game against Dumbarton had been due to be their last for the Methil club.

Meanwhile, one report yesterday linked Stevenson with St Johnstone. It remains more likely, however, that the midfielder will link up with former Saints manager Derek McInnes at Bristol City.