Hearts winger Jamie Walker plans to make up for lost time by undertaking extra fitness work during the summer.
The talented playmaker has been sidelined since breaking a metatarsal bone against Motherwell on 11 January.
After being an unused substitution in Hearts’ last three outings, Walker had an 80-minute run-out for the under-20s in Tuesday’s defeat by Inverness.
The 20-year-old’s short-term goal is to force his way back into the team for the bottom-six fixtures, but Walker plans to be in prime condition when he returns next season. He said: “You lose a lot of fitness when you’re out injured and it’s all about getting back to the level I was at before it happened. That will take a few training sessions and matches but I’m confident I’ll manage.
“It’s great to be back but I have missed a lot, so I’ll be doing more during the summer to make up for it. I might have a wee break but I’ll also be putting in extra sessions in the gym or going for runs to get me ready for the new season.
“It’s not great being on the sidelines, but you have to keep your head down and keep working hard otherwise you’ll never get back. The first few weeks were the toughest but after that I got used to things and was focused on coming back stronger.
“I have been in the gym all the time and hopefully I have put on a bit of muscle and am now more physically strong.”Fellow wingers Sam Nicholson, David Smith and Billy King have all featured recently and Hearts manager Gary Locke admits Walker, Hearts’ most creative player during the first half of the campaign, faces a battle to regain his place.
Locke said: “It’s all very well training but you need to play games, so the plan was always for Jamie to play for the Under-20s first.
“He will be ready for the first team after the split but he’s going to have to work hard to get back into the side. The boys who have the jerseys at the minute have been fantastic.
“I’ve said all along that, if you’re in the team and playing well, then you’ll keep your place.
“It’s great to have options now in the wider areas. Sam Nicholson has come in and done well, Billy King and David Smith are on form and now Jamie is back.”