DANIEL STENDEL will not oversee any of Hearts’ training sessions ahead of the Boxing Day Edinburgh derby after returning to Germany on Saturday night.
However, Andy Kirk, the Tynecastle coach charged with holding the fort, is adamant Stendel’s absence will not derail the Jambos’ preparations.
Stendel traveled to his homeland for personal reasons in the aftermath of Hearts’ damaging 2-1 defeat against Hamilton, which cut the capital club adrift by three points at the foot of the Premiership.
He is not scheduled to arrive back in Edinburgh until Christmas Day and, having granted his squad that day off in order to spend time with their families, that means Stendel will not see his players again until the day of the match.
The decision is certain to raise plenty of eyebrows. However, the message from the coaching and playing staff in Gorgie is that it remains business as usual, with Kirk in regular dialogue with Stendel and following the boss’s instructions to a tee.
“We’re in constant contact with Daniel, we know exactly what he wants – and we’ll put that across to the players over the next few days,” explained Kirk, who took charge of training yesterday and will again on Tuesday. “We’ll make sure we’re ready for Thursday.
“We’ve got a plan that was put together before he left and Daniel is due back on Christmas Day.
“The information given will be consistent with what has been delivered since Daniel came in.
“Their focus will be totally on the game, as it should be because this club needs three points very quickly.”
Giving a perspective from the dressing room, striker Uche Ikpeazu also sought to play down Stendel’s absence, adding: “We already knew the situation prior – we have plans in place.”
Kirk, to his credit, is cocksure as he steps into the limelight.
Within days of Stendel’s appointment, the former Barnsley and Hannover manager declared the Northern Irishman as someone he could trust, and with whom he shares coaching philosophies.
He will evidently not shy away from being tasked with delivering the sessions this week.
“I’m in this position because that’s what I want to do,” said the ex-Hearts forward, who will largely only have goalkeeping coach Paul Gallacher to assist him as Liam Fox and Jon Daly remain out of the picture. “I’m quite happy to take responsibility.
“I know Daniel trusts me to do that and I’ve got a good bond with the players.
“I’ll make sure that everything geared towards Thursday is done right – and ensure we all understand the importance of the game.
“It’s a derby game and I know what it means to the club and what it means to the fans.”
The importance of this fixture is only exacerbated by the precarious position Hearts find themselves in, with mere top-flight survival swiftly becoming the club’s sole aim this term.
No member of the squad at Tynecastle signed up for a relegation scrap but Kirk insists the penny has well and truly dropped that they are in one.
“We are quite aware of the position we are in and you can’t just think ‘it will be fine come the end of the season’,” continues Kirk. “It’s a relegation battle at this minute in time – and we need to get ourselves out of it.
“You would never have envisioned a club like Hearts would be sitting where they are, but performances and results haven’t been right and it’s a situation we are responsible for getting ourselves out of.”
In order to gain a morale-boosting triumph, Hearts must halt a notable recent pattern that has seen the hosts fail to emerge victorious in the last five Edinburgh derbies.
“When you’re the home side the pressure is always on you to win the game,” adds Kirk. “It becomes more important when it’s a derby and even more so when we are in the situation we are in;
“But football is about pressure and the players and staff have to deal with that.”