Rudi Skacel takes to the ice but yearns for a game on grass

AFTER a fortnight of enforced inactivity, Rudi Skacel is itching to get back into action this weekend, when Hearts are due to face Aberdeen at Tynecastle. The Czech midfielder trained with his team-mates on the beach at Portobello in the morning, and had an extra workout at Murrayfield Ice Rink in the afternoon, but he would like nothing better than to be back on the grass on Saturday.

Hearts have won their last four matches, all with a 2-0 score, but since then have had games at Motherwell and Rangers postponed.

If they are to recapture their winning form against managerless Aberdeen, Skacel thinks they will have to play a high-tempo game from the start - and keep a close eye on his former Tynecastle team-mate Paul Hartley.

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"We have to start sharp, because we have not played for two weeks," Skacel said yesterday. "They will be trying to play good football and it will be a special game for Zico (Hartley], so we have to play 100 per cent ourselves.

"He is a great player and we have to look after him. Don't let him shoot, don't let him have the chance to take free-kicks.

"Sometimes, if you change manager, every player wants to show their best and play the best football. But we have to concentrate on ourselves and we need to play our game."

Hearts have been unable to get to their training base at Riccarton for much of the past two weeks, but Jim Jefferies and his coaching staff have striven to keep their squad fit and in good spirits - hence yesterday's training session at Portobello.

The one consolation for the club, according to Skacel, is that they are not quite so desperate to get another game as they would have been if they had lost their last few matches instead of winning them.

"Hopefully this week everything will be okay and we can play and hopefully we can carry on like the last few games. It's maybe been easier to train because of the run we've been on - if you are behind and you lose you are always looking forward to playing the next game so for us maybe we have the advantage of a good run behind us. We need to continue because we need points and need to keep third position.

"We have tried to do everything in training, for example today we trained on the beach, and our coaching staff try to do something different every week because it's not easy to train indoor, it's a hard pitch.

"You can't do anything else in this weather. We'll be ready to train and play outside as well but it does not look like the weather will be good to train outside.

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"Sometimes I have trained during pre-season on the beach, but this was the first in winter. In the winter it's very cold but it's something different.We needed cheering up and we needed good training before Saturday so I think it was good practice and hopefully it will help us for Saturday."

Although football in his homeland is on a winter break at present, Skacel is happy with the way things are in Scotland, and believes matches over the festive period have a special atmosphere.

"It's nice you have the tradition of playing through Christmas and every single stadium is full and for football players it's special. It's traditional in Scotland and I am for keeping tradition.

"But, if the weather is going to be like this for the next few years, maybe it's better if you have three or four weeks' break. The weather has changed over the last couple of years but we will see how it will be next year and then you can start thinking and it's up to the FA.

"Right now in the Czech Republic they have a break. There is more snow than here. There is a four-month break because of the weather - we have autumn and spring season so it's no problem for football players right now.

"That's why we have ice hockey during Christmas. Everyone watches that."

Skacel was out skating on the ice rink, not just watching others, yesterday, to promote the Edinburgh Capitals' double-header against Nottingham Panthers this weekend.

Not only is he a good friend of the Capitals' Slovakian captain Martin Cingel, he also played ice hockey up to the age of 15.

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"There was a chance I could have played ice hockey rather than football. I said to my family my biggest sport was football. I was a little bit better at football and for ice hockey, my hands are weak. I am a good skater and maybe good finisher, but my hands are not so good so it was an easier decision for me. I have come to see them many times this season. I am a big supporter of the Capitals and hopefully there will be more people coming every week and they can get to the play-offs.

"Hopefully more Hearts fans will come and watch the Capitals."

Anyone with a season ticket for a football club can get into the Murrayfield matches for half-price on either Saturday or Sunday. Face-off is at 6pm on both days.