Hearts boss has no qualms about key pair playing two games in 48 hours

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Hearts manager Robbie Neilson insists he has no qualms about Liam Boyce and Michael Smith having to play their second game within 48 hours in tonight’s Championship match at Dunfermline.

The pair started Northern Ireland’s UEFA Nations League 1-1 draw at home to Romania on Wednesday, with the Hearts men even combining for Boyce to score his first competitive goal for his country.

Neilson is also set to start with Craig Gordon at East End Park, even though the goalkeeper arrived back from Scotland duty in Israel at around 5am yesterday morning.

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson | Hearts news
Neilson welcomes back Craig Gordon, Liam Boyce and Michael Smth back from international duty (Pic: Hearts TV)

As Hearts look to maintain their flawless start to the season with a victory that would propel the Gorgie outfit back to the league summit, Neilson is confident all three will be ready for the test in Fife.

He said: “They’re alright. Michael Smith came in just for a massage to be ready for the game but Boycie was getting the ferry back – then Craig is just turning up for the warm-up.

“They should all be fine to get involved.

“Boycie got a wee kick on his knee but I’ve spoken to him and he said he’s fine. They’re all good.

“It’s quite a quick turnaround, especially for Michael and Liam who both played on Wednesday. 

“They both played 70 minutes or something but it is what it is. 

“After this game they’ve got Saturday, Sunday and Monday before we play again on Tuesday against Alloa so they should be fine.

“It was good for Boycie to get the goal. He’s starting to score goals again now and he’s looking sharp. I’m sure he’ll come back full of confidence.”

Gordon returns to domestic action on a high following over two years in the international wilderness.

The 37-year-old earned his 55th cap in last Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Slovakia and will be desperate to maintain his place in Steve Clarke’s squad for next summer’s Euro Championship finals.

Neilson added: “I was delighted, really pleased for him. It just shows how far he’s come and that he made the correct decision (to rejoin Hearts from Celtic).

“It was all about getting first-team football to try and get into that Scotland set-up. He’s managed to do that.

“Getting to the Euros gives him that incentive to continue doing well here.

“I thought he did very well (against Slovakia), he didn’t have any chance with the goal at all. It’s good that he’s back in the squad.”

Hearts midfielder Olly Lee is another player who is back playing with a smile on his face under Neilson.

The 29-year-old fell out of favour during Craig Levein’s time in the dugout and was subsequently farmed out to Gillingham for the whole of last season.

Lee has played every minute of Hearts’ three Championship victories so far and was on target with a brace in their recent Betfred Cup win at East Fife.

“It’s chalk and cheese to be honest,” said Lee, when asked if he is more comfortable playing under Neilson and assistants Lee McCulloch and Gordon Forrest.  

“It’s a much better place to be. You can see the lads are all enjoying their football at the minute and that’s the main thing. 

“It’s just the environment that the gaffer and the coaches have created. 

“From minute one we want to win every game and the way they’ve gone about it, training’s been brilliant. 

“It’s very professional but very enjoyable. They’ve got the mix really good in my opinion.”

Lee, who is currently undertaking his UEFA B coaching badge, appreciates the work the dugout team put in, having dipped his toes in the water by taking his cousin Henry’s under-16 team, Upminster Town, while down south last season.

“It took me three months just to get them to listen to me, I think,” joked Lee.

“And when I finally earned their respect I was back up to Scotland.”

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