Hibernian: Ross unsurprised at McNulty ban

 

Hibernian manager Jack Ross was unsurprised at Marc McNulty’s two-match ban after the club accepted an SFA charge against the striker.

The on-loan Reading man was cited by the governing body’s compliance officer after stamping on the back of Hearts’ Sean Clare in the first half of Tuesday night’s Edinburgh Derby defeat at Easter Road.

With Hibs accepting the ban in time for the weekend, they will be without McNulty for tomorrow’s trip to Pittodrie to face Aberdeen, and against St Johnstone at home seven days later.

“I wasn’t even aware of the incident when I came to do my initial post-match interviews,” Ross said before the club accepted the ban.

“I don’t want to prejudice anything we do moving forward but when I say I’m not surprised that we’ve received a notice of complaint, I think that gives you my best indication of [his views on the incident] because the footage speaks for itself in that respect.

“You can’t get inside people’s heads, but football is a very emotive game and things happen in split seconds. But in terms of what the footage shows, it’s not great.

“If [a ban] is the outcome then it is a blow for us as we don’t have a plethora of striking options.”

With a gap now appearing in Hibs’ already thin forward line, there is a chance for young striker Jamie Gullan to make his first start for the club as Ross claimed he is now a legitimate first-team option.

The 20-year old scored his first senior goal for the Hibees in last week’s Scottish Cup quarter-final win against Inverness Caledonian Thistle and came on as a substitute against Hearts, but is yet to start a game for the club.

“He’s ready to start games,” Ross said of Gullan. “The only reason he hasn’t started is because we’ve been doing well in an attacking sense.

“He came on in difficult circumstances [against Hearts], I think we had just conceded the second goal, and I think with his first or second touch he put the ball out of the pitch.

“I look at things like that to see how players react to it, and he was good after that. He’s involved in our goal and he was bright in difficult circumstances.

“If and when he’s required, and the opportunity presents itself, I have no qualms about using him.”

Ross’ side will travel up north still without the services of midfielder Joe Newell, who hasn’t featured since an injury away to Kilmarnock last month.

Hearts: Stendel predicts relegation fight will go down to final day

Hearts manager Daniel Stendel has predicted that his side’s fight for Scottish Premiership survival will go down the final day of the season.

The Jambos’ emphatic 3-1 derby win over Hibernian on Tuesday night lifted them off the foot of the table for a mere 24 hours, before Hamilton’s shock victory over Rangers the following night dragged them back to the foot of the table.

Stendel believes that his team will need to drag other sides into the basement battle and thinks that the fight for survival will go right down to the wire despite an upturn in form.

“We have five games left [before the split]. The situation is not comfortable for us, but it hasn’t changed,” he said. “We knew it would be good if we won this game, but it still hasn’t changed for us.

“It’s important we collect more points; not that we look to Hamilton every time, but we collect our points. We let a lot of points slip, and the time is over for us to do this again. When we win our points, we don’t depend on the others.

“We need more results. Sometimes we will win games and other times the other team will win games. I think it will be decided on the last game.

“The first time all season we won two big games in a row. It’s a good sign that we can do it.”

Stendel has recently abandoned his favoured gegenpressing approach for a more disciplined style of play, and impressive victories over the Hibees and Rangers have renewed optimism in what has been a disappointing season so far.

“I think this is the first time this season we won two big games in a row. It shows we can do it,” he said.

“The kind of play in both games is the main point for me to take from the games. We showed a mentality on Tuesday, and our discipline was important.

“The situation is good for me and the players. We have more experiences when we work together, and when we do work together and have the right discipline and behaviours on the pitch, we will get the chances to win the game.”

Hearts face a Motherwell side who claimed an impressive 4-1 victory over Ross County on Wednesday. The Jambos will still be without Toby Sibbick as he remains out through illness, though the defender may be back in training next week.

Diamond Daniel and trophy droughts: Sport Quiz of the week!

This week’s sport quiz looks at Hearts’ derby drubbing of Hibs, Ronaldinho’s brush with the police and the Six Nations. Try your sporting knowledge below!

 

Cup replay between Hearts and Rangers could postpone Tuesday’s Edinburgh derby

Tuesday night’s Edinburgh Derby at Easter Road could be postponed should Hearts’ Scottish Cup quarter-final against Rangers tomorrow go to a replay.

The Scottish FA has announced that a draw at Tynecastle will result in the teams facing again on Wednesday, March 4 at Ibrox.

With Rangers playing their Europa League round of 16 tie against Bayer Leverkusen over the following two weeks and the Scottish Cup semi-finals on the weekend of April 11, next week remains the only free slot to contest a replay.

Hearts are also facing the prospect of a fixture pile-up after their crucial game away to St Mirren was postponed last week due to heavy rain.

The relegation strugglers host Rangers in Gorgie tomorrow after upsetting Steven Gerrard’s side with a 2-1 victory in January, which remains manager Daniel Stendel’s only league win with the Jambos.

Speaking to the media on Thursday, Stendel said he hopes his team can take inspiration from that January performance.

“Rangers will be more focused for this game,” Stendel said. “The cup is always a good chance for everybody to win a title, especially after the first game.

“For us it is important that we know we can win. If we play at Tynecastle then we have the support that we need against Rangers. In our situation, every game is important.

“The difference is that this is a cup game and doesn’t change anything in the league, but it can give us a positive lift for the next couple of games, especially on Tuesday night. We need better results.”

Stendel claimed that he saw a big lift after beating Rangers, however he regretted his side’s failure to capitalise on that as they only won one of their next five games – a 1-0 victory over League One Falkirk in the previous round of the cup.

This quarter-final tie gives Hearts a chance to switch their focus from Premiership duty, where they find themselves two points adrift at the foot of the table.

The St Mirren postponement has resulted in the Jambos having an extra week to prepare for tomorrow’s game, but it may have been an unwelcome break as Stendel admitted time is running out for them to turn the tide.

“All that we do in training is good. The motivation is good. The only thing that doesn’t change is the results,” he said.

“We can look to other games and other teams, but the only team that we can change is us.”

“I said to the players, ‘we cannot score three goals every week’. The other team doesn’t get a lot of chances, but every chance is a goal. Every week it costs us points. We want one goal to be enough to win a game.”

The German will be boosted by the return of striker Liam Boyce, who struck the winning goal on his debut when the teams met in January, however he is still awaiting the return of defender Toby Sibbick after illness.

Daniel Stendel: Hearts boss demands improvement as his side aims for Scottish Cup fifth round tie against Falkirk

 

Hearts manager Daniel Stendel has called on his side to bounce back from midweek disappointment when they take on Falkirk tomorrow night in the Scottish Cup fifth round.

The Jambos go into Saturday’s game off the back of a 3-2 home defeat to Kilmarnock, a result which left the Edinburgh side bottom of the Scottish Premiership.

Stendel said: “I think Wednesday was a big disappointment, we want to play so much better than we played. This situation is passed and the future is Falkirk tomorrow.

“We keep our confidence and we try to change it. This is pressure, yes, but everyone has this in professional football, we have to win.”

The German has declared that he will keep faith in goalkeeper Joel Pereira after a string of high-profile errors from the goalkeeper, having let in six goals in their last two games.

He said: “I am happy with our goalkeepers. Yes, we know that there was a mistake especially with the third goal [against Kilmarnock]. It’s not one player at fault for conceding the goals.

“Yes, when a goalkeeper makes a mistake everyone can see it but we train and we looked after him and we decided together [to play him].”

Saturday’s opponents Falkirk needed a replay to reach the fifth round, beating Arbroath 2-0 after a goalless first tie, with former Jambos striker Conor Sammon amongst the goal scorers, while Hearts defeated Airdrie 5-0 at Tynecastle.

The Bairns sit second in League One and are unbeaten since the appointment of management duo Lee Miller and David McCracken in November last year.

Stendel is looking to use the cup as a way to pick up Hearts’ league fortunes.

He said: “We can use every game to lift ourselves after Wednesday, it’s a good chance to show our ambitions. We want to win this game and get into the next round. We want to win every game but especially we demand to show that we can play better.”

“Your dream is to win the cup, whether in Scotland or in Germany. The chance is there, we stand at the moment in the league at the bottom but I think that we can win against every team.

“At the moment, we have some difficult situations in the league but if we play how we can play, we showed that we can win.”

Michael Smith is back in contention for selection, after missing the last four games with injury.

Hearts boss Stendel calls for more consistency in relegation battle

Hearts manager Daniel Stendel has urged consistency from his side as they bid to bring themselves off the bottom of the Scottish Premiership table.

They go into tomorrow’s game against eighth-place St Johnstone just a point behind Hamilton, who host Celtic on Sunday, meaning a win would take Hearts off the bottom and within three points of the Saints.

The Tynecastle side go to McDiarmid Park off the back of a fine 2-1 win over title challengers Rangers and Stendel is looking to build on his first victory in charge.

Stendel said: “After Sunday, we had a good result, but it doesn’t mean that the next game is the same. We need to do the same again.

“We have done a lot of things in the past three weeks in training and outside of the pitch with team building events but the most important thing is that we win games, that we have positive results and I hope this was the last step for what we need to play consistently in our style.”

Both of the meetings between St Johnstone and Hearts have ended in 1-0 wins for the Perth side. The first match in October was former manager Craig Levein’s last while their meeting in December, was Stendel’s first. The German is expecting a different Hearts side from the one that played that afternoon.

He said: “My first experience was St Johnstone. I think it was our worst game from when I started here. I wanted to change things, the players were motivated to do this, but the idea wasn’t so clear at that moment and I think St Johnstone deserved to win the game.

“I think this is a different game on Saturday and we have a different team.”

One of the new recruits, Toby Sibbick, had his first experience of Scottish football on Sunday and said that Stendel sold him on a move to Hearts, having worked with him at Barnsley.

Sibbick said: “The manager was a big part in me coming here, because he brought me into Barnsley and there, he played me in every game and really trusted me. For him, putting faith in me as a player gives me all the confidence in the world to perform for him.”

Sibbick believes that his experience at AFC Wimbledon has prepared him for the challenge of a relegation battle.

The 20-year-old said: “I was ten points adrift in January with Wimbledon and we stayed up on the last day. I’ve been in that position before and it’s not the best feeling in the world, knowing that you could go down.”

Peter Haring, Jamie Brandon and Aaron Hickey are definitely out of Saturday’s match in Perth while Michael Smith is a doubt.

Levein’s “fingers crossed” over Naismith’s injury

Craig Levein

Craig Levein will be without Steven Naismith for the second time this season. (Credit: Luke Barry)

Hearts star striker Steven Naismith has been ruled out for 10 weeks after requiring surgery on his knee. He was substituted in a 2-1 defeat to Celtic last weekend in what would turn out to be his second major setback of this season.

He goes for his operation on Monday next week, however, his manager Craig Levein has not ruled out the possibility that he will return before the end of the season should Hearts make it to the Scottish Cup final.

He said: “I hope so, he came back from injury really quickly last time so fingers crossed it will be the same again. It is unfortunate for him and for us at the club too because we have a lot of big games ahead.”

Levein has voiced his empathy for Naismith, who will not only miss the majority of the club season, but potentially the European Championship play offs at the end of the season. The 32 year old would have most likely been a starter for Alex McLeish’s Scotland side who play Kazakstan and San Marino in the summer.

He said: “It is not only a shame for Hearts. He is also sitting on 49 caps and should be getting his 50th in a couple of months. He is a player whose generation has missed out on getting to major finals with Scotland and there is a chance that could happen this time. So I feel sorry for him as he has worked ever so hard to get back from his last injury.”

Steven Naismith was forced off in a 2-1 defeat to Celtic last week (Credit: SNS Group)

However, despite their form dipping the last time they were without Naismith, the Hearts boss is more confident in his squad at this stage of the season.

“When he was out previously we had a shortage of strikers. Craig Wighton is bak fully fit again after his ankle problem and we have also got David Vanecek back with us as well as Uche [Ikpeazu]. So it is a different situation altogether and I don’t feel nearly as anxious as earlier on in the season when we had to deal without Steven in the team.”

Hearts play Dundee away in the league on Saturday as their hunt for Europe continues as they currently sit in fifth place and three points off Kilmarnock. Craig Levein will be hopeful that his side can claim all three points against the team currently a point from bottom in the table.

 

Hearts sign former Leeds left back Aidy White

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Heart of Midlothian have bolstered their squad with the addition of former Leeds United and Barnsley left back Aidy White.

White, a free agent, had been on the radar of manager Craig Levein for over a year, and signed a contract this afternoon that will keep him at Tynecastle until 2021.

The news comes after the club also announced Uche Ikpeazu is extending his deal until 2022.

“We’ve been in dialogue with Aidy for a year and feel that now is the right time to bring him in,” Levein said.

“He’s got a lot of work to do to reach the level we think he’s capable of but I’m confident he can fulfil his potential and prove to be a vital cog in the wheel as we look towards the future.”

The 27-year-old defender came through the Leeds youth system and played over 100 games before joining Barnsley, winning the Football League Trophy and the League One Play-Off Final in 2016.

He has also captained Northern Ireland U21s but a groin injury forced him out in 2017.

 

Wighton hoping to benefit from Naismith absence

Craig Wighton

Wighton is looking for a fresh start after injury (Credit: Luke Barry)

Heart of Midlothian striker Craig Wighton is looking to break into the starting line-up ahead of tomorrow’s match against Dundee.

Team-mate Steven Naismith is set to be out for eight to 10 weeks with a recurring knee injury, and whilst Wighton knows that he’ll be a big miss for the club, he believes that the hole can be filled.

“[Naismith] has done a lot for us this season, with the amount of goals he’s got,” Wighton said.

“Obviously he’s already missed a few games this season, and we missed him a lot during that period, so it’s a big task for all the forwards to replace him.

 

“But we’ve got a lot of good players; Uche, Macca, Vanacek and Keena as well. There’s a lot of competition here, but I think for any team, they would miss a player like ‘Naisy’.

“But all the forwards have got to think that [we can take his place]. He’s a big player for us, but we’ve got some important games coming up, so it’s a big opportunity.

“We all need to start chipping in with goals.”

Injury and lack of form has meant that Wighton has been limited to only nine league appearances so far this season. He’s become almost a forgotten man at Tynecastle, something that he accepts, but he insists that he’s ready to make a new start at the club.

“It does a bit [feel like starting again],” he admitted.

“I feel like I’m in better shape than when I first came here.

“I’ve had a few games back-to-back, which I haven’t had for a while. Even though it’s reserves football, it’s good to get these games under your belt to get up to speed.

“I’m feeling sharp now and if I do get called upon, then I’ll be ready.”

Tomorrow’s match will see Wighton return to Dundee, a club he knows very well. He came through the academy at the Tayside club, before leaving them to join Hearts last August.

The 21-year-old admits that he is shocked to see his old side battling relegation this season.

“I am [surprised at Dundee’s position in the league table],” he said.

“Obviously it’s almost a completely different squad to when I left – I don’t know many of the players that are there now – but I’ve seen them a couple of times this season and they’ve been decent.

“But it’s hard to get a good run of games when you’re in that position. It’s a big game on Saturday, so we’ll be looking to go there and get the three points.

“I appreciate everyone that Dundee did of me during my career but I’m at Hearts now. If I get an opportunity on Saturday, I’ll be looking to score.”

Sports Paper Review: March 8th

Copy of BREAKING NEWS-4

Fraser Munro spoke to Luke Barry and Bryce Donaldson about today’s big stories in sports, from Hearts’ striker penning a new three year deal to Scotland rugby captain being benched for the weekends game.

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