Robbie Neilson is planning to make a last-minute decision on whether to field Hearts top-scorer Lawrence Shankland in Saturday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final at home to Celtic.
The Jambos skipper, who has notched 21 goals this term, sat out Wednesday’s cinch Premiership defeat at Parkhead with a minor injury and, after missing Friday’s training session, he is rated “touch and go” for the Tynecastle rematch between the teams.
Shankland scored a hat-trick the last time Hearts hosted Celtic in October and, given the magnitude of this weekend’s match, Neilson is eager to have him back in the team if at all possible.
Alex Cochrane and Stephen Humphrys have also been battling to prove their fitness this week, but Josh Ginnelly, who went off injured in midweek, is fit to lead the attack.
“Lawrence is touch and go,” the manager said on Friday. “He didn’t train today so it will be a last-minute decision on him. He’s such an important player for us. A couple of others will make it and a few won’t. There will be a few changes from midweek but not a huge amount of changes.
“If there’s a possibility of them (players with fitness doubts) playing, we’ll try and risk these guys because it’s such an important game for us.
“It’s an opportunity to get to Hampden and when you look at the draw and the teams that are in it, there’s a great opportunity for us to progress even further, but we have to take care of this game.”
Hearts have been runners-up in three of the previous four Scottish Cup finals but Neilson is refusing to entertain talk of a Hampden return just yet.
“We’ve got guys that have had a few knockbacks in the last couple of years so we want to take that next step but first and foremost we have to take care of one of the best teams in Scotland so any thoughts about finals and semi-finals are out of the window just now,” he said.
“It’s about turning up and making sure we’re at it. We have to bring intensity and energy.”
After losing 3-1 at Celtic Park on Wednesday, Neilson is hoping home advantage can help give his side the edge. Saturday’s match will be the first in which the recently formed Gorgie Ultras fans group, who have brought noise and colour to Hearts’ away support, will have their own dedicated section in Tynecastle.
“It’s massively important being at home,” said Neilson. “We’ll have the ultras there in the Gorgie Stand so the place will be rocking and hopefully we’ll have a full house.
“The ultras have been great. They’ve had conversations with the club and it’s about creating an atmosphere. The European games really brought everyone together and we saw what the other teams were doing and how it can be done in a proper way where you can create an atmosphere but also have respect between the ultras and the rest of the fans and the stewards.
“Ultimately it’s about creating an atmosphere and getting the place rocking.”
Hearts are also set to be without Yutaro Oda, Gary Mackay-Steven, Craig Halkett, Craig Gordon, Liam Boyce, Peter Haring and Beni Baningime.