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Conor Washington hails "united" Hearts squad amid departures

Manager Daniel Stendel has been making efforts to reduce the number of players.

Hearts striker Conor Washington feels he is only just getting to know his team-mates as manager Daniel Stendel trims his squad and makes a conscious attempt to bring it together.

Stendel has embarked on a January clear-out of the Ladbrokes Premiership bottom club, with Aidan Kenna moving on and Jake Mulraney, Christophe Berra, Colin Doyle and Craig Wighton told they can leave.

Washington admitted the squad was larger than he had been used to during his days at Newport, Peterborough, QPR and Sheffield United after Stendel claimed there were too many players in training before moving some to the reserve squad.

And the Northern Ireland international feels Stendel's attempts to bond the squad have helped ahead of Saturday's William Hill Scottish Cup tie against Airdrie at Tynecastle.

Washington said: "We have probably done more as a team in the last couple of weeks than we have in the six months I have been here. Which is really important.

"We are all united. Nobody wants to be in this situation so we all need to pull in the same direction and hopefully you will be able to see that in the coming games.

"We have done little things like an army team-building thing, we have been go-karting, and just being in double sessions and getting abused really, that's about as good team bonding as you can get, going through physical pain together.

"And obviously the longer hours have given us more time to get to know each other, I guess."

Previous boss Craig Levein decided to get a bigger squad after being hit by a string of injuries.

But with Washington among a number of players recently returning to fitness, Stendel felt there was a need to reduce it.

"In my personal opinion, just from clubs I have been at, I would say the squad was large," Washington said.

"There was just a lot of people, and not necessarily players who were going to be involved week in, week out.

"Getting the squad trimmed down and making (training) more competitive between the lads who are going to be starting and playing is really important."

The 27-year-old feels the new togetherness has helped players come together in a bid to improve things on the pitch themselves.

"Those discussions have definitely gone on in the last few weeks," he said. "I think everyone realises the severity of the situation and we are the only ones at the minute who can change that starting from next Wednesday (against Ross County), but Saturday is a really important one for us."

Washington came back from a 14-week lay-off with a hamstring injury by making a late substitute appearance against Aberdeen before the winter break, and joins the likes of Steven Naismith and John Souttar in embarking on comebacks.

"It's been torture, especially with the form we have been in," he said.

"It just sort of felt like I was getting relatively fit when I got injured, and then we have been through a bad period and it was tough to sit on the sidelines.

"But now there are a few of us back and looking forward to contributing and making a difference."

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Thursday's key events

· The women's heptathlon continues with the long jump, javelin and 800m, with Katarina Johnson-Thompson now out of contention following an injury (1.10am-1.40pm)
· Andrew Pozzi pursues his dream of an Olympic medal in the men's 110m hurdles final (3.55am)
· Tom Bosworth and Callum Wilkinson are among the British hopes in the men's 20km race walk (8.30am)
· Holly Bradshaw aims to improve on fifth in Rio to challenge Greece's Katerina Stefanidi and Anzhelika Sidorova of Russia for an unlikely medal in the women's pole vault (11am)
· London 2012 champion Kirani James goes up against current world champion Steven Gardiner in the men's 400m final (1pm)

· One of the toughest Olympic events takes place in Tokyo Bay as GB's Hector Pardoe takes on the men's 20km marathon swim (10.30pm Wed)

· Galal Yafai takes on takes on Kazakhstan's Saken Bibossinov for a spot in the gold medal bout of the fly (48kg-52kg) class (6.48am)

· Lois Toulson and Andrea Spendolini-Sirieix (daughter of First Dates' Fred Sirieix) line up for the women's 10m platform (semi-final 2am; final 7am)

· Australia face Belgium in the men's final (11am)

> Today's schedule in full
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