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Football: We are the infirm favourites; 4TH RD REP: KILMARNOCK v HEARTS KILLIE BOSS JIM UPBEAT DESPITE INJURY CRISIS.

Byline: MICHAEL BAILLIE

KILMARNOCK are facing an injury crisis ahead of their Scottish Cup replay with Hearts as manager Jim Jefferies revealed he only has 12 fit players.

Jefferies admits his first-team squad is down to the bare bones for the fourth-round replay at Rugby Park.

The Kilmarnock boss is set to recall Craig Dargo to the first-team squad, even though the striker's scheduled 45-minute run out for the reserves yesterday was his first action since being sidelined two months ago.

The prize of a home clash with Livingston in the quarter-finals will go to the victors. And although they suffered a 3-0 weekend defeat to Hearts, Jefferies is confident Killie can progress - despite the injuries.

He said: "Hopefully some of the doubts will clear up but as it stand right now I've got 12 fit players for this game.

"Craig Dargo is playing for the reserves but if he comes through the first 45 minutes I got word through to take him off as he may be needed against Hearts.

"Colin Nish was injured in the first game and he's still out. Gordon Greer is out, Liam Fontaine is a doubt after taking a knock on the eye and we'll wait and see because another knock on it could do him even greater damage.

"Freddie Dindeleux has had a bit of a reaction to his injury and he'll have a fitness test. Gary Locke went over on his ankle in training, Gary Wales has pulled a thigh muscle. We are really down to the bare bones." Tonight's replay will see Ian Durrant in the home dug-out for the final time as the Kilmarnock coach is to return to Rangers after seven years at Rugby Park.

Jefferies expects Durrant to take up a coaching position at Ibrox, where he enjoyed great success as a player, and he hopes the Killie punters turn out in force to give him a great send-off.

He said: "Whether Ian moves on or not that'll be a decision he'll make after this game. He'll be in the dug-out and a win would be a great way to send him off.

"I hope the fans come out to get behind the team and it'll be a great way to say farewell to Ian because he's given the club great service as a player and as part of the backroom staff.

"He came to Kilmarnock after his career with Rangers and contributed by helping them get to Europe.

"I kept him as part of my backroom staff but these things happen in football. When I was at Hearts I lost Paul Hegarty to Aberdeen when he moved as assistant to Alex Miller.

"Good luck to Ian if he goes, I can't blame him because of his association with Rangers. I'm sure he'll be very popular if he goes. But I want to give him a good send-off and I'm sure he'd be delighted if we go through."

This is the third time in 10 days that Hearts and Kilmarnock have faced each other. A last-minute Steven Naismith goal earned Killie a replay in the first meeting but Jefferies side were swept aside by the Jambos at the weekend.

But the Killie boss insists his players are determined to right that wrong as they are within touching distance of Hampden.

He said: "We've got a chance to put right what went wrong on Saturday and I'm sure John and the Hearts players know they'll be facing a different Kilmarnock team."

CAPTION(S):

PRIZE FIGHTERS: Jefferies, with Liam Fontaine and Simon Ford, believes Killie can overcome their injury problems; FAREWELL: Durrant
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 16, 2005
Words:602
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