ROBBIE NEILSON admits he can only keep his fingers crossed that his absent trio return to Hearts fit – and healthy – after international duty.
The Tynecastle side will be without the services of Scotland keeper Craig Gordon and the Northern Ireland duo of defender Michael Smith and striker Liam Boyce until the eve of their Championship meeting with Dunfermline a week on Friday.
Whilst Scotland are on the road to Serbia, Slovakia and Israel, Northern Ireland face a trip to Austria on Sunday, sandwiched between Thursday’s massive Euro 2020 play-off clash with Slovakia and a Nations League encounter with Romania at home.
Having players away with international squads has always been fraught with the possibility of injury. But Neilson confesses the coronavirus pandemic – and incidences of players contracting Covid-19 whilst abroad with their countries – means an even more anxious wait for good news for club managers like himself.
“I’ve got two with Northern Ireland and one with Scotland at the moment,” he said “It’s good to get them away and it’s great for them. They’ve got some massive games, for both nations, and we hope they’re going to play a part in it.
“That would be great, not just for the players but also for this team and this club, and for the other players in the squad. When you have players who play in these big games you aspire to get there as well, which would be great.
“The worry of [the virus] is always in background. The Scottish boys are travelling to three different countries and the Northern Ireland boys two different countries. You have that worry.
IN IT TO WIN IT
“But you can pick it up anywhere and I’m sure both national teams are looking after their players and are in their bubbles, and travel about in a group.
“There’s not a lot you can do, you just have to hope they get back here in good health. It’s just the way football is at the moment, and life. Everywhere there’s a worry and a chance but we just need to hope the players come back fully fit – and healthy.”
Neilson is also hopeful his side’s chances of silverware this season remain on track in the coming days.
With a maximum possible nine points in the bag from their opening three Betfred Cup games, qualification should be clinched against East Fife and, with his side already in last term’s Scottish Cup final, Neilson is eyeing more knockout success.
“We are in the Betfred to win the Betfred,” he said. “The Scottish Cup is put to bed just now until the 20th of December.
“If we can win against East Fife we top the group and go into the seeded pot for the next round, which will make a big difference.”