Football: McKinnon out for a month

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HEARTS SUFFERED a fresh injury blow yesterday when their defender Rob McKinnon was ruled out for up to a month with a recurrence of a groin problem.

The Scottish Cup holders have been blighted by the absence of several key players amid a slump in form that has yielded only two wins in 13 games.

The former Scotland full-back has been one of Hearts' more consistent performers since his arrival from Twente Enschede in the summer.

With their key midfielder Colin Cameron still five or six weeks away from a return after groin surgery, Jim Jefferies, the Hearts manager, will be relieved that Neil McCann should be available again soon after a broken ankle.

The Scotland winger could even come back into the squad for Saturday's visit of Kilmarnock to Tynecastle, although he has been restricted in his return to training by the frozen pitches in the capital.

Jefferies dismissed reports of an alleged row with Stefano Salvatori despite the Italian midfielder claiming he has been made the scapegoat for the club's recent slump.

Salvatori was taken off at half-time in the 3-0 League Cup semi-final defeat to St Johnstone a week ago but missed Saturday's league defeat at Dundee with a groin strain.

However, Jefferies insisted: "Stefano is not the first person to be left out and he won't be the last. I was looking to change things in midfield and Stefano had a groin strain in any case.

"I spoke to him last week after the St Johnstone game and pointed out one or two things that he wasn't doing that he had been last year.

"But there has been no bust-up and no rift. It is maybe just frustration.

"I am ambitious and I want Hearts to do as well as they can. You have got to strive for that and you want your players to feel the same way, and that is what I am trying to get across to them."

Despite failing to arrest a run which has seen them slide to seventh place in the Premier League, just two points off the bottom, Jefferies believes his side are on the verge of turning things around.

"They showed a bit of character on Saturday and a willingness to work hard to make things happen but it just didn't come off for us," he said.

Jorg Albertz, the Rangers midfielder, escaped with a warning from Scottish Football Association disciplinary chiefs yesterday for his criticism of the referee, Hugh Dallas, after the German international was sent off against Dundee United in the final Premier League match of the campaign. The red card meant Albertz missed the Scottish Cup final.