Opportunity to shine

Jim Jefferies is looking to Hearts' fringe players to take the chance to show the full strength of his squad against Kilmarnock tonight. Hearts are the form team in the SPL with eight wins from their last nine league game. The only black mark on the recent record is the loss to St Johnstone in the Scottish Cup last week. Hearts will be travelling to Killie - the last team to beat Jefferies' team in the league - with Kevin Kyle (groin) and Rudi Skacel (calf) almost definitely out. Stephen Elliott and Calum Elliot are also struggling for fitness, so Jefferies will have to shuffle his squad for a game originally scheduled for Boxing Day. Hearts will be aiming to extend their record of seven wins from eight games away from home this term, losing only to Celtic. Jefferies said: "Our record away from home's very good. It will be severely tested against a good Kilmarnock side without these players. I said weeks ago when the team was settled and doing well, there would come a time when we'd need the squad. It's all right saying on paper we've got a good squad, this is a chance for them to come in and prove that they can carry on from where they boys who are missing have left off. That'll prove we've got the strength in depth. It's a challenge for them to come in and keep the run going, particularly away from home."

Killie's record is not to be sniffed at as they have won six, drawn three and lost one of their 10 SPL games since winning 3-0 at Tynecastle on 31 October. However, they may not have Connor Sammon in the side tonight his the strike agrees terms with Scunthorpe. Killie have agreed a fee so it is down to the player and his personal terms. Jefferies said: "They've been fantastic. They were playing well up until they played us, but they weren't putting the ball in the net. Since they got the goals that day they can't stop putting it in the net. I'm pleased. You don't spend that time in that club and not wish them well. I hope Hearts finish as high as we can and the next club behind us is Kilmarnock. They certainly deserve it and it's great to see."

Following tonight's game, Hearts meet Rangers at home, Celtic away, St Johnstone at home and Rangers away in a run of fixtures which could shape their season. Jefferies added: "We've got some difficult games, starting at Kilmarnock. We won't win every game, we won't win every point, but we've got to go and try and get the majority of them. We've got to keep trying to consolidate that third place."