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Hollis a safe pair of hands in Tynecastle injury crisis

Hearts last night completed the swift signing of former Motherwell goalkeeper Lee Hollis as an injury crisis threatened to derail the club's derby preparations.

New signing Lee Hollis will stand in for Neil Alexander and Scott Gallacher at Hearts. Picture: SNS
New signing Lee Hollis will stand in for Neil Alexander and Scott Gallacher at Hearts. Picture: SNS

With Neil Alexander already sidelined for up to six weeks with a fractured cheekbone, his replacement, former Rangers goalkeeper Scott Gallacher, has suffered a twisted ankle in training. While Gallacher has not been ruled out of tomorrow's Tynecastle match with Hibernian, Hearts immediately moved to bring in Hollis on a short-term deal until January after he was was released by Motherwell in the summer.

Scotland under-19 internationalist Jack Hamilton, who is yet to make a single first-team appearance, is the club's only other fit goalkeeper after being recalled from a loan spell with Stenhousemuir earlier this week. Hearts described the signing of Hollis as a "precaution", but Robbie Neilson intimated that he would have no concerns about giving the 28-year-old his debut tomorrow against Hibs.

"I said earlier in the week that we would be looking at the situation after Neil's injury," explained the Hearts head coach. "Lee's an experienced goalkeeper and has spent the last few seasons with Motherwell and has played in Europe for them."

Meanwhile, defender Kevin McHattie insists he is thrilled to see long-time rival Alex Harris recapturing his top form, even although he believes the Hibs winger is any defender's "worst nightmare".

Harris was a shell of his former self under former manager Terry Butcher last season, looking bereft of confidence as his side tumbled out of the SPFL Premiership.

However, he has been rejuvenated by new head coach Alan Stubbs in the early weeks of this campaign and promises to be one of the key threats to the Hearts defence this afternoon.

McHattie is no stranger to crossing swords with Harris, with the duo facing off against each other regularly as they emerged through the Edinburgh clubs' respective youth ranks. And he hopes that history repeats itself tomorrow, insisting that he used to come away with the bragging rights more often than not.

"We are rivals but I am pleased for him that he is getting back to his best form," said the Scotland under-21 internationalist. "He undoubtedly has a big future ahead of him.

"Alex is a good player, he's very direct and he whips balls in. He is a full-back's worst nightmare. As young guys we have came through the under-19s and 20s together and played against each other.

"I always enjoy going up against him but I'll know to expect a hard afternoon. Hopefully we will be able to cope. It was usually Hearts who got the better of the derbies in the youth ranks over the years. Hopefully that will continue."

Both capital clubs have enjoyed bright starts to the campaign as they aim to ensure a three-way fight with Rangers for the Championship crown. Hearts defeated Rangers at Ibrox last week thanks to a last-gasp winner from the hugely promising Osman Sow, while Hibs triumphed over Livingston in their opening league game of the season just days after a Petrofac Training Cup defeat against Ally McCoist's men.

McHattie acknowledged the prospect of a title battle between Hearts and Hibs is a tantalising one and admits Hearts are delighted have their rivals in the second tier.

"I am glad they are in the same league as us," said the Hearts left-back. "We will have another four or five derbies this season which is great for the club and the fans. They will be a rival this season, along with Rangers. They have a new gaffer who has gone in and made a lot of changes.

"It would be brilliant for everyone to have a title race with Hibs. You see it in the games between the sides, the fans give each other a bit of stick but it's brilliant. It would take that up a notch if we were fighting for the championship. However, the players just get on with the game."

McHattie was an ever-present in derby matches last term as Hearts won four out of five encounters against Hibs. And, with the win over Rangers now his side's "benchmark", he hopes they can continue their dominance of the fixture.

"We did well in the derbies last season, winning four out of five," he added. "Hopefully that can continue in the upcoming ones. The Rangers game showed what the boys are capable of. The new lads have come in and we have set the benchmark now."

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