Thomsons battle for Hearts spot after Jonsson ban

RICCARTON should be an interesting place to be this week as Hearts training sessions intensify with the club pursuing European qualification. In particular, the duel between Craig and Jason Thomson is certain to be especially intriguing as they challenge for the right-back vacancy created by Eggert Jonsson's dismissal at Ibrox.

Craig found himself deployed at right midfield against Rangers on Sunday but, speaking exclusively to the Evening News today, he pledged to secure a return to his favoured position ahead of namesake Jason.

He watched in disbelief as Jonsson's ordering off for a professional foul on Steven Naismith resulted in Kenny Miller securing Rangers' victory from the penalty spot. The Icelander now incurs an automatic one-game suspension as Motherwell visit Tynecastle on Saturday, pitting both Thomsons against one another for his position.

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Although versatile enough to operate competently both at right and centre midfield, Craig Thomson's preferred position is right-back. It was there he excelled with Hearts Under-19s before an imperious, not to mention impromptu, debut against the might of Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League qualifiers in August.

Knee surgery interrupted his season just as he was becoming a permanent fixture at right-back, where he offered assured defensive qualities as well as vicious set-piece delivery. A lengthy rehabilitation now complete, he believes he is returning at an ideal time during the season's business end. However, Jason Thomson, pictured below, has recovered from the illness which saw him surrender the right-back berth to Jonsson earlier this month. With Jonsson now precluded for Saturday, battle has already commenced.

"It's an opportunity for me and it's an opportunity for Jason as well," said Craig. "We'll have to see what training's like the rest of the week. Jason will be wanting his place back after being ill and I'm sure he's disappointed he didn't get a chance at the weekend. Both of us have to fight against each other for that place on Saturday. Jason and I are close mates so we'll have a laugh about it. We won't kick each other but training will be lively. Whoever plays, I'm happy if they do well for the team."

Craig's first-team return has been gradual, with Hearts coaching staff wary of expecting too much from a 19-year-old academy graduate. "I've been frustrated but, as Jim Jefferies and the others keep telling me, I'm only young," he continued. "There's no point risking doing the same again to my knee by rushing things right now because hopefully I still have a long career left. The coaches are just looking out for me.

"I've come on as a sub in our previous four games and then they gave me a start at Ibrox, so I'm thankful for that. I'm glad the gaffer has given me my chance again.

"I've got to try and get my touch back. I've been back a wee while but Sunday was my first start since December. I need to keep progressing. Sunday was also the first time I've played in midfield this season. I tried to get crosses in and we were unlucky not to score on a couple of occasions.

"Personally, I prefer full-back but I'm happy to play anywhere for Hearts. It's just an honour to play for that jersey, but my preference is full-back. I would like to start on Saturday but obviously I don't know if that will be the case. It's the gaffer's choice who he wants to play in the last four games. He could give a couple of younger players a chance but we still have the possibility of climbing up the table a bit.

"There's the chance of a European place at the end of the season and I think we can achieve that. We've been playing very well generally."

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Sunday was no exception as Hearts' crisp, intelligent passing at times put their hosts to shame. Had they scored first the Ibrox natives would have progressed from restless to apoplectic, but Thomson believes Kyle Lafferty's headed opener was pivotal to the final outcome.

"I thought we were pretty unlucky in the first half," he said. "I should have put one of my crosses in first time for David Obua but I took and extra touch on the ball and that allowed the Rangers defender time to get back and make a tackle.

"If I put the ball in first time David only had to tap it in, so that's a mistake on my part. I thought we did well but the first goal was a bit of a killer. Until then we had played good football and even after the goal we kept passing the ball. We're pretty pleased with our passing overall.

"I wouldn't say we thought we had Rangers at any stage, even when it was 0-0.

"You can never say you've got Rangers even if you're a goal or two goals up. Anything can happen. At half-time, Jim told us just to keep playing the same way and hopefully we would get a goal. We tried to do that but we couldn't really do much about the first goal. Kyle Lafferty's a big guy and he's moved into an area and got his head to the corner. Jamie MacDonald was unlucky because he got a hand to it but couldn't keep it out.

"Eggert was pretty gutted in the changing room at the end. He said Naismith had started falling down already before he'd even touched him. He's pretty disappointed at being sent off."

Craig Thomson will make no bones about taking advantage of Jonsson's misfortune should Jefferies hand him the right-back berth this weekend.