Hearts manager Craig Levein has been boosted by the probable return of two key players for Sunday’s visit of Rangers.
Midfielder Peter Haring will make his first appearance of the season following groin trouble and striker Uche Ikpeazu will return from a minor hamstring problem if both come through training sessions without any negative reaction.
Levein still has a lengthy injury list, with Steven Naismith and Loic Damour just short of comebacks and a host of others out long term, but he believes the improving situation can ease their troubles.
The former Scotland manager expressed his frustration after a 1-0 defeat by Kilmarnock before the international break left Hearts without a Ladbrokes Premiership victory at Tynecastle since March.
Levein was more critical of his players than he had been all season and warned them not to come knocking on his door when experienced players took their places following their returns to fitness.
“With the return of some of our better players to training, I see a chance for us to have better competition for places, particularly for starting places, and that’s something we need,” he said.
“I got frustrated after the last game because we have been losing by the odd goal, we have had chances to win games. We have been failing on a number of fronts.
“We just need to tidy everything up and be a little bit more secure and definite in what we are doing.
“I can go with the coaches and work with them on the training pitch but I think the biggest help will be getting players back in who generally perform at a higher level.”
Levein could not hide his anger after Hearts’ last defeat and accused players of not trying hard enough.
When asked what their reaction had been, he said: “The next few games will tell us that. Until we get into this match and see how we perform, it’s very difficult for me to tell you what sort of reaction we have.
“But we need to be good. It’s a game against the most in-form team in the league, who have the added confidence of hitting top spot.”
Levein added: “As a group we need to do better. From my point of view, picking the right team is important, making the right changes is important. These things fall squarely on my shoulders.
“For me, the players’ responsibility is to go out and give everything they have got. If we lose the match having given everything we have got, then I will sleep at night.”
Levein’s side have lost seven consecutive matches against Rangers and conceded 11 goals in four meetings last season.
“Games against Rangers recently haven’t been as good as we would have liked,” he said. “That’s another thing we want to make up for.
“We have lost goals at set-pieces and, when I look back at the last couple of seasons, we have gifted them goals as well.
“My first thoughts… if we can get through the match without making any blatant errors then I will be happy. And then after that Uche, who has done well against Rangers in the past, comes back in the team and we have more solidity and better physical presence with Peter coming back as well.”
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