Hearts manager Robbie Neilson hopes to welcome back a host of key players – including top scorer Lawrence Shankland – for Saturday’s cinch Premiership trip to Aberdeeen.
Shankland, Robert Snodgrass, Stephen Humphrys, Alex Cochrane and Yutaro Oda have all missed recent matches through injury, but Neilson is optimistic that the first four named will be available for the high-stakes showdown at Pittodrie.
“We’ll hopefully have the majority of them back but we’ll see tomorrow,” Neilson said.
“It’s important to have as many of your key players available as possible. We’ve had a difficult run all season (with injuries) and in this wee period we’ve been losing a number of our attacking options, which makes it a bit more difficult.
“Lawrence has trained the last few days so if he gets through tomorrow, he should be ready. Robert and Alex are the same.”
Oda is set to remain on the sidelines, while Peter Haring, who has been out since October due to the effects of concussion, is closing in on a return.
“Peter’s in full training but it’s more realistic that he’ll be available for selection after the international break,” added Neilson, who also offered an update on Beni Baningime, who has been sidelined for a full year with an ACL.
“Beni’s getting closer but he’s still a couple of months away.
“If he makes a couple of games before the end of the season we’ll be delighted but that’s probably as close as he’ll get. If he’s not back until next season, fair enough. We’re not going to rush him.”
Hearts had goalkeeper Zander Clark included in the Scotland squad this week for the upcoming Euro 2023 qualifiers against Cyprus and Spain but there was no place for Shankland, who has notched 21 goals this term.
“He’s one of the top scorers in the league but Steve (Clarke) will have his reasons,” said Neilson, reacting to his captain’s omission.
“He’s not played the last couple of games either so that’s potentially counted against him. He’s not made the squad but hopefully he can make the squad in the summer.
“Zander’s been outstanding for us. It’s no surprise that he’s in the squad. Hopefully can get some game time as well.”
Neilson is hoping his side can bounce back positively at Pittodrie this weekend after losing back-to-back games against Celtic in the league and Scottish Cup. Victory over the Dons could take Hearts eight points clear in third.
“We’re third in the league, five points clear,” he said.
“We weren’t happy with the last two results (against Celtic), but if you look at the bigger picture, if we finish third twice in a row it will be the first time we’ve done it since the early 2000s and we’ve had a European campaign (to contend with this season).
“We’re sitting in a very good position. Aberdeen, Hibs and a number of other teams have improved this season, as have we, and now it’s a fight to get that third position. If we win the game on Saturday, it puts us in a brilliant position.”