Craig Levein seeks rare win at St Johnstone to arrest Hearts’ slide

Hearts manager Craig Levein speaks to the press ahead of his side's game against St Johnstone. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
Hearts manager Craig Levein speaks to the press ahead of his side's game against St Johnstone. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
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Hearts travel to McDiarmid Park tonight looking for a first league win there since November 2010 – a statistic they are keen to put to bed and, in the process, end a run of six games without victory.

St Johnstone, in contrast, have racked up five wins and a draw in their last six fixtures. Notably, Tommy Wright’s team have not conceded a single goal during that sequence. Hearts, for their part, have found the net just once in their last six games – courtesy of an own goal.

“They’ve hit a bit of form,” said Hearts manager Craig Levein in acknowledging the turnaround in Tommy
Wright’s side’s fortunes. “They struggled at the start of the season but they’ve got six games with clean sheets.

“I saw they’ve lost Drey Wright, who’s been good for them, which will mean that Tommy will need to change something for tonight. It’s obviously a difficult place to go and get points, but I took some encouragement from our game on Sunday [the 2-1 loss to Rangers]. I think we improved. We changed the shape and tried to get more people higher up the park and not just leave everything to Steven MacLean, who I brought here to maybe play 15 games this season. The 36-year-old striker will in fact make his 20th appearance of the campaign this evening at his old place of work.

Injuries to fellow strikers Uche Ikpeazu and Steven Naismith have seen MacLean used far more often than was originally planned when he left St Johnstone for Hearts during the summer.

Levein is not likely to alter his starting line-up greatly from Sunday. He is toying with the idea of resting Christophe 
Berra to protect the captain. Berra made his first appearance in four months at the weekend and another demanding fixture three days later may be seen as a risk.

Levein is content to let the 33-year-old make the final call. “I don’t know yet. The second day after the game is always the most dangerous one. Obviously with Jimmy Dunne being out for six weeks then the temptation is to put him back on the field again but he’ll make that decision.”

Dunne’s ankle problem is the latest in an unfortunate injury saga which has seen Hearts robbed of Berra, Ikpeazu, Naismith, John Souttar and now Dunne. Levein still hopes to extend the Burnley defender’s stay at Tynecastle beyond January, when his exsiting loan agreement is due to end.

“He’s been amazing,” said the manager. “I really want to keep him if I can but he’s done that well I wouldn’t be surprised if they [Burnley] kept him or tried to put him to the Championship or something like that. But I want him back. If we’ve got him, Christophe and John Souttar then I think we’ve got a really strong back line.”