Hearts are looking to bounce back from a defeat at basement side Dundee United when they host struggling Kilmarnock at Tynecastle on Saturday.
The third-placed capital outfit had been on a seven match unbeaten run when the Terrors put the skids on it with a late winner in a game that saw both sides reduced to ten men.
Robbie Neilson’s side have seen their title challenge falter in recent weeks and they’ve slipped to a bumper seventeen points adrift of leaders Celtic – but still lead the chasing pack by eight points and will want to hang onto their UEFA Europa League qualifying spot. That has to be the main aim for the Edinburgh side and it would prove a triumphant return to the top flight if they do so after a season down in the Championship.
“The players worked really hard then we’re reduced to ten men with another shocking refereeing decision and it’s changed the game,” said Neilson after the defeat at United.
“We’ve gone down to a wonder goal and the boys are devastated, but we keep going and we keep working.”
The Jambos were left short on personnel in the 40th minute as Jordan McGhee controversially walked for a second yellow card – with Neilson feeling that he’d won the ball in a tackle - and they were beaten by a tremendous 25-yard volley from Paul Patton in the 88th minute.
New Killie boss Lee Clark watched his side battle to a point in a goalless draw with Dundee in his first game in charge- but they could have had all three were it not for two first half goal-line clearances that denied Josh Magennis.
“There were a lot of positives and had we came in at half-time ahead, it would have been deserved,” he said, with his side still stuck in the relegation play-off place, albeit level on points with Partick Thistle.
“The application, attitude and quality of football was good. We created chances, but the frustration was that we put Kris Boyd on near the end, one of the most prolific goalscorers in Scottish football, and we stopped putting in crosses into the penalty area.”
“I put him on because we were getting the ball into the box and I knew if he was in there then, if one of those chances fell to him, he would score. But that’s a technical thing I can work on with them.”
Boyd can possibly expect to start on Saturday as Killie look to test the Hearts defence with more of those balls into the box – but with 48 goals conceded so far this term, it’s keeping them out at the other end that Clark will worry about, although the side look to have turned a corner after shutting out Dundee.
The two sides have drawn both of their previous meetings so far this season but Hearts are the favourites to take three points from this clash as they look to retain that European qualifying spot.
Hearts Recent Form WDWDWL
Kilmarnock Recent Form DWLLWD
02/01/2016 Kilmarnock 2 Hearts 2
03/10/2015 Hearts 1 Kilmarnock 1
23/09/2015 Kilmarnock 2 Hearts 3
04/05/2014 Hearts 5 Kilmarnock 0
08/03/2014 Kilmarnock 4 Hearts 2
Hearts (4-4-2) – Alexander, Paterson, Augustyn, Rossi Branco, Oshinwa, Abankwah, Gonzalez, Nicholson, Lloria, Dauda.
Kilmarnock (4-4-2) – MacDonald, Hodson, Balatoni, Findlay, McHattie, Dicker, Slater, McKenzie, Kiltie, Boyd, Magennis.
Kilmarnock: Johnston (inj), Westlake (inj), O’Hara (inj), Connolly (inj), Smith (inj).