Robbie Neilson admits he does not have much scope to rotate his depleted squad for Sunday’s cinch Premiership to Ross County.
Injuries to Cammy Devlin, Stephen Humphrys, Peter Haring, Craig Halkett, Liam Boyce, Kye Rowles, Gary Mackay-Steven, Nathaniel Atkinson and Beni Baningime meant the Jambos were only able to name seven subs – including two goalkeepers and four young players – for Thursday’s Europa Conference League victory over RFS.
And the situation got worse in the closing stages of the win over the Latvians when Stephen Kingsley went off with a hamstring problem which is likely to put him on the sidelines for a spell.
“To be honest, there’s not going to be much rotation because there’s not much squad left at the moment,” said Neilson.
“We knew it was going to be a tough schedule – 26 games in the first three months of the campaign. We’ve got Ross County, Istanbul, Motherwell then we go Rangers away and Livi before we get to the (World Cup) break.
“We’ve got a lot of hard games to play in and we’ve just got to take one at a time.”
Asked if he might be forced to delve into the free agent market to replenish his squad, Neilson suggested he will look towards the club’s younger players for reinforcements.
“It’s probably a wee bit late for the free agent market, to be honest with you,” he said. “We’ve got a good group of young players – Finlay Pollock on the bench on Thursday, Lewis Neilson, Conor Smith, Euan Henderson coming on. We’ve got a good group here and we’ll see who is available for Sunday.
“We might take a couple of younger ones up, we’ll just wait and see.”
The RFS game ended a run of six games without a win for Hearts and Neilson is hoping his embattled team can do enough over their next four league games before the World Cup to stay in contention for another third-place finish.
“Obviously we’ve been through a wee difficult period but we’ve been playing against some really good teams,” he said.
“This European campaign was always going to be difficult for us. It’s our first exposure to that, the travel and coming back to play on the Sunday.
“We knew this period going up to the World Cup was always going to be difficult. We have to maintain the league form as much as we can to try to be round about that third position, get to the World Cup, then after that, start to get players back and hopefully kick on from there.”