The depth and quality of the Heart of Midlothian likely the envy of most clubs in the Scottish Premiership. With key men having returned from injury, head coach Steven Naismith is being left with the decision to leave senior members of the team out of his match-day squad.

On Wednesday night, in the 1-0 loss to Rangers, Hearts had one of the strongest benches named by the club in nearly two decades and that was without Cammy Devlin, Liam Boyce and Alex Lowry. The latter duo could be available for the trip to Aberdeen with the Aussie midfielder missing through injury. 

It means, going forward, competition is going to be fierce. Whether it is Craig Gordon and Zander Clark for the No.1 position. Four centre-backs in Frankie Kent, Craig Halkett, Stephen Kingsley and Kye Rowles competing for either two or three spots. Or Lowry, Boyce, Barrie McKay, Kenneth Vargas, Yutaro Oda, Kyosuke Tagawa and Lawrence Shankland vying for attacking slots.

READ MORE: Hearts suffer Cammy Devlin injury blow - midfielder could miss derby

“It’s good," Naismith said. "It probably, subconsciously, raises the quality in training. I know what players are like. Players will be trying to work out the squad, who’s available, how many get into the squad, who am I vying for to be in the squad? It definitely brings that laser focus for each individual. 

“We had options on Wednesday. At half-time we make two offensive changes then we still have Barrie McKay coming off the bench later on. It’s a good problem to have as a manager.”

As the old cliche goes, it is a nice headache for a manager to have. Will Naismith be aware he could be Mr Unpopular amongst some of the squad?

“That’s part of it," he said. "I’ve had to deal with that recently. You just have to be honest. These decisions are not personal. It’s a footballing decision and I’m very clear that week to week it could change. Gone are the days of rolling out the same team all the time and that gets you your win.

READ MORE: Steven Naismith Q&A: Hearts competition, goal issue and Aberdeen expectation

“That plays a part to build momentum but the tactics involved in the games are so refined that its small margins that make big differences.”

McKay and Nathaniel Atkinson were the two longer term injury absentees who got minutes against Rangers. Will Gordon and Halkett be set to follow at Pittodrie? Naismith was giving nothing away. 

“We’ll see," he said. "Alex Lowry comes back into the squad from last week. It’s competition but this game is different. We’ve played them twice since I’ve been in charge and had two good results playing a different shape.”

Atkinson was a welcome presence at right wing-back, a position which has been filled by Alan Forrest, Toby Sibbick and, for a short period, Oda. The Aussie international played 45 minutes from the start and showed signs of being a player who has been out injured for more than two months. Naismith was well aware that would likely be the case, as it would for most players returning from injury in such a big, intense game against a good opponent.

"It was a big ask but he’s got good experience and the opportunity to go more offensive at half-time gave us that leeway to take him back out," he said. "It was a good 45 minutes to build him up.

“He had good bits and moments you could tell he was just back. Some of his touches maybe got away from him but then he has a big part to play in our best part of the game.

“Natty gave his all. He never shied away from anything. I was expecting there would be times he would take a bad touch after he had been out for two months. He started the season really well, the injury disrupted him, but I expect him to get back to that."

READ MORE: How Rangers loss showed the two sides of Hearts: Pressing but not enough chances

The focus now for Hearts, after the defeat to Rangers and a trip to Celtic on the horizon, is to get back to winning ways at a venue they have not won at since 2016.

“This is a good opportunity to get three more points, stay in third place and compete at the top end," Naismith said. "This month is about focusing on us and getting the results.

“We had a bad result on Wednesday. The middle of the pitch and build up was decent at times. Final third we weren’t perfect then we gave a sloppy goal away.

“We want to get back to a win on Saturday. But we know it will be a tough game. I think it will be open because the previous games we’ve had have been quite attacking.”