Hearts boss welcomes selection headache ahead of Celtic semi-final

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Hearts manager Craig Levein admits he has a welcome selection headache ahead of Sunday’s eagerly-anticipated Betfred Cup semi-final against Celtic.

Despite having lost key players Christophe Berra, John Souttar and Uche Ikpeazu to long-term injuries, Levein is thrilled with his options ahead of the televised Murrayfield showdown.

Teenage midfielder Harry Cochrane has boosted his chances of making the first XI after impressing in his maiden Premiership start of the season in Tuesday’s 3-0 win at Dundee, a victory that has moved the Premiership leaders six points clear at the summit.

Naismith netted his 11th goal for Hearts against Dundee

Australian playmaker Olly Bozanic, who scored a stunning free-kick at Dens Park, has also taken advantage of Peter Haring’s groin complaint although the Austrian could return to face the Bhoys.

And Levein, who recruited some 18 new players during the summer, admits he plans to give careful consideration to his line-up for the weekend.

He added: “I don’t know what we’re going to do yet. I would much rather have the selection problems I’ve got this season than I had last season when I had to play a lot of players because we didn’t have anybody else.

“We used a lot of young players last year, probably before they were ready – although it did them a lot of good, and this year we have a lot of strength and depth.

“And it’s easier to make positive substitutions when you know that the players on the bench aren’t going to be a big step down to the ones that are on the field.”

Cochrane

Levein, who also saw Steven Naismith and Steven MacLean get on the score sheet at Dens Park, added: “There were a number of things that were good against Dundee; Olly Bozanic scored his first goal, a lovely free-kick.

“We had young Harry back and I thought he showed some fantastic touches in midfield.

“I was thrilled to bits with him, he’s not played a lot of football and he’s had a lot of injuries and I thought he was excellent, he really was.

“His composure on the ball at times is just breathtaking and it was great to get him back in the team, I’m delighted for him.

“I’m in the fortunate position that midfield is an area that we’re well covered and have a lot of competition for places.

“We also got Ben Garuccio on the field for a wee while (against Dundee), Craig Wighton did well when he came on.”

Fans

Levein, meanwhile, has confirmed that Hearts will train at Murrayfield tomorrow to reacquaint themselves with the 67,000 capacity stadium ahead of Sunday’s match.

The former Scotland boss has also against dismissed suggestions that the tie is a ‘home’ game for the Tynecastle club.

Hearts played four Premiership games at the home of Scottish Rugby last term while the new main stand at Tynecastle was being built.

Celtic, who trained at Murrayfield on Wednesday, utilised the same stadium for European games in 2014 when Parkhead was used for the Commonwealth Games.

Levein added: “We’ll train at Murrayfield on Friday.”

Asked about the club’s previous experience of the ground, he added: “I looked into this when the draw was confirmed, we’ve lost a lot of players that played at Murrayfield last season and Celtic have a lot of players who played there.

“I don’t think it makes much difference. It’s a fantastic stadium, the pitch is really good. I think it’s the same for both of us.”

Murrayfield

While Celtic have sold to their 30,000 allocation, Levein is delighted that Hearts supporters have taken up in excess of 27,000 tickets.

He added: “The fact we’ve sold 27,000 for Murrayfield will make sure that it doesn’t feel like an away match and I’m looking forward to that.

“The great thing for me just now is that there is a great connection between the fans and the players and I’m grateful that so many made the effort and spent the money to support us at Dundee.

“They were right behind us from the first whistle right to the end, I think you could see how appreciative the boys were of their support and that’s good just now – and that helps us.”

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