Rangers may not have their troubles to seek at the moment, but the same could be said of Hearts, according to manager Craig Levein.
Tomorrow, the teams will face up at Murrayfield, Hearts’ temporary home, looking for a result to soothe their respective woes. The fact that the capital side have had such a nomadic start to the Premiership campaign and endured their own managerial tumult at the beginning of the season means they have had to overcome obstacles already. But now they have to bounce back from a derby defeat and do it while struggling with injuries to key players.
Left with a selection conundrum that seems to have no obvious answer, not when players such as Don Cowie and Arnaud Djoum remain on the sidelines, Levein, who says he may have the experienced midfield duo back for the upcoming Kilmarnock match, believes that whoever he does choose to start in tomorrow’s lunchtime kick-off will put up a fight. He says only time will tell if that will be enough against a managerless Rangers, though.
“We’ve got our own problems, which is the first thing to say. We’ve got midfield dilemmas. So we won’t be at our best,” he said. “I would say the same about Rangers. They can’t be at their best because they’ve got injuries, they have Bruno Alves’ suspension, Ryan Jack will be out because he received a red card, Graham Dorrans went off with an ankle knock…”
Hearts had managed to overcome their issues, with only one defeat in six prior to the midweek derby loss, and closing the gap on teams above them and a victory over Rangers would take them level on points with the Ibrox club, offering extra incentive.
“It’s always difficult but it’s a situation you face very often as a coach. We want to win. And it’s a ruthless business. It’s dog eat dog,” added Levein.
“That doesn’t stop me having a degree of empathy but we’re coming head to head on Saturday. We all know how tough it is. And there’s no point in complaining about it – it doesn’t make any difference. So it’s just about controlling the things you can control.”
The midfield conundrum is one the Hearts manager has tried to address in different ways, with teenagers and defenders thrown into the mix. He opted for more of the latter than the former for the midweek trip to Leith, fearing that the derby would be too big an occasion for 16-year-old Harry Cochrane but, with the alternatives making little impact on the opposition despite the fact the game was still there to be fought for, he sent the young midfielder on at the start of the second half. He made a difference, albeit not enough for Hearts to take anything from match. But his manager is considering giving him the opportunity from the start against Rangers.
“The only thing I can do is play Harry Cochrane,” said Levein. “He has come on in the last two matches and changed the game for us in a positive sense. That would be my big thing, whether he starts on Saturday.
“I wish I had started him on Tuesday. Harry did make a difference, but it’s bad when we are relying on a 16-year-old to change things and come on to make a contribution. But sometimes the younger you are, the less fear you have. He’s handled any situation I have put him in so far. He can’t physically handle it, but he tries.
“To be fair, the kid’s in because we have got injuries and we’ve got problems, but he has done well.”
Up against his former employers, Kyle Lafferty is a player Levein expects will rise to the occasion, but he acknowledges that the difficulty lies in getting him the supply he needs.
“I hope this is the sort of game Kyle will relish,” he said. “He’s done well for us, scored goals but the problem isn’t that strikers are missing chances, it’s that our midfield players have disappeared so we’re not creating too many chances.
“We are not set up to go from back to front, that’s not Kyle’s strong suit. Isma [Goncalves] and Jamie Walker are not those sort of players either. We need to play football, but we need players who can play football before we can do that.”