Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson has no qualms about losing half his team ahead of important schedule

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Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson insists he has no qualms about losing half of his team to international duty, despite facing a crucial run of three matches in seven days when they return.

Five of Neilson’s players – Jack Hamilton, John Souttar, Jordan McGhee, Liam Smith and Sam Nicholson – have been called up by Scotland Under-21 coach Ricky Sbragia for the forthcoming Euro qualifying matches against France and Northern Ireland.

Canadian winger Dario Zanatta has also been selected for his country’s Under-20 squad for a friendly against England in Doncaster on Sunday.

johnsouttar
Former Dundee United man Souttar is one of the players called up

Hearts’ final three pre-split matches against Celtic, Inverness and Aberdeen are set to determine whether the Gorgie side will be capable of closing the nine-point gap on the Dons in second.

And even though his youngsters risk picking up injury in two competitive matches for Scotland, Neilson insists they will benefit from the experience.

He said: “They’d be playing here anyway, we would be training right through.

“It’s better they go and play and get that experience.

“They’re going over to France on the Thursday to play against one of the best Under-21 teams and it’s great for them to see how far they are.

“They might be sitting here thinking they’re doing really well, then go to France and get a realisation that they’ve got a really long way to go before they get anywhere near the top.”

Saturday’s surprise 3-0 home loss to St Johnstone was a chastening experience for Hearts as the Tynecastle side were ruthlessly punished for producing one their worst performances of the season.

But Neilson hopes they heed the weekend lesson ahead of a trip to Parkhead on April 2.

Neilson added: “We have to be realistic about where we are. Yes, we’re sitting in a great position but we’re still a young team.

“We had three 19-year-olds in the back four and it was a tough game against a very experienced team – a team that’s full of guys in their late 20s and early 30s that know the game.

“The young boys will learn from it. The joy we did get on the day was when we turned them a little bit and got in behind them.

“We need to do that more at times, we were a wee bit predicable with our play.”

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