Ross County co-manager Steven Ferguson says the Staggies must be ready to face a revitalised Hearts side at Victoria Park tonight.
County host a bottom-of-the-table Jambos side in their first league match of 2020, with the Edinburgh side desperate to regain form having fallen five points adrift of Hamilton Accies.
New manager Daniel Stendel is keen to implement a high intensity style of football at Tynecastle, with the German claiming his first victory in Saturday’s 5-0 Scottish Cup triumph over Aidrieonians.
Ferguson insists the Jambos will be out to make that a cornerstone in their campaign, and he said: “It has taken the new manager coming in at Hearts a few weeks to settle in and assess what group he has.
“He’ll obviously want to bring in the kind of guys who suit the way he plays.
“Hearts have been in the media for a long time now for everything but the actual football on the pitch.
“I’m sure they, more than anybody, will want the focus back on the football.
“They’ll feel this is an opportunity for that to happen. We’re going to face a Hearts team full of energy and full of players trying to impress and make sure they stay in the manager’s plans.”
Ferguson and fellow co-manager Stuart Kettlewell are demanding a reaction from their side, having been critical of their display in Saturday’s 1-0 Scottish Cup defeat to Championship side Ayr United.
Ferguson hopes his players can show it was a one-off, adding: “It isn’t always going to be perfect, we’ve never said that.
“But one thing we should never be questioned on is the character of our group and that was questioned on Saturday.
“That’s what probably hurt Stuart and I the most. We don’t want to be associated with a team that lacks character or intensity and enthusiasm. It has never happened in the 18 months to two years previous.
“We’ll give them that one and we’ll strive to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
County will be without Liam Fontaine and Brian Graham through suspension, however fit-again Don Cowie and teenage left back Josh Reid have been added to the squad.
The Staggies yesterday confirmed the departure of 18-year-old Mark Gallagher to Aberdeen for an undisclosed fee, with Ferguson adding: “We’ve had high hopes for Mark for a while and he’s had opportunities, but he’s never quite managed to secure a place and that was a frustration for us and obviously for Mark as well.
“This move came up quite unexpectedly and both parties felt the best thing to do at this stage was to part ways.
“Everyone at the club wishes Mark all the best. He was here 10 years and there’s been a lot of effort and work put into Mark on the playing field and training ground, as well as off the pitch.”