Rangers fell well short last week with a £200,000 offer for the Northern Ireland international, who hit the post after coming off the bench during Hearts’ 5-0 Betfred Cup win over Inverness yesterday that put the Tyncecastle club into the second-round draw.
Ibrox manager Steven Gerrard yesterday refused to discuss the Lafferty approach, but the bid sparked comparisons with a transfer wrangle involving Rangers and Jamie Walker this time last year. Hearts threw out several offers and the midfielder was left out of squads before a potential deal collapsed again on deadline day.
And Levein expects to have to work to keep former Rangers striker Lafferty firing on all cylinders amid continued speculation over the Ibrox club’s next move.
“As much as Kyle says it’s not having an effect, I think it probably has,” the Hearts manager said. “I had a long chat with him about his responsibilities as a professional and he was good. He tried like a bear when he came on. He was focused.
“My focus was on the team and trying to make sure that he would be able to assist us if he came on, and he did very well.
“The good thing is we only have another month of this nonsense until the transfer window closes. We had the same dealings with Rangers over Jamie Walker. So I kind of expect the same thing again.”
Lafferty is in the final year of his contract and the club might be tempted to sell after an expensive redevelopment of Tynecastle last year, but Levein was being diplomatic when he described Rangers’ bid for a player who netted 19 times last season as “disappointing”.
When pressed on the difference in valuations, he added: “I’m not even going to talk about it, that’s how much I think about it.”
Meanwhile, Gerrard is hopeful of signing a centre-back and a striker before Rangers kick off their Premiership campaign away to Aberdeen on Sunday.
The manager confirmed that a move to sign Manchester City defender Kean Bryan has been shelved although he refused to be drawn on his club’s pursuit of Lafferty. “I can’t talk about that – he’s a Hearts player. In terms of bids, I’m not aware,” said Gerrard after his team made it five clean sheets in a row with a 3-0 triumph over Wigan Athletic in yesterday’s friendly at Ibrox.
Summer signings Connor Goldson and Nikola Katic are the only senior centre-backs on the books at Rangers, while Gerrard is currently heavily reliant on Alfredo Morelos up front as on-loan Roma striker Umar Sadiq is still some way short of full fitness.
“You can see we need a centre-back so that’s definitely an area we’re trying to add in,” said Gerrard. “Hopefully it will be sooner rather than later. That and a striker are the key areas. I’d love to get two players in before the league campaign starts – I’m in a rush.”
The need to recruit a striker would intensify further if an injury sustained by Morelos moments after he headed the opening goal yesterday proves to be worse than initially suspected. Gerrard was confident last night that the Colombian would be fine to lead the attack against Osijek at Ibrox on Thursday as Rangers bid to protect a 1-0 first-leg lead and reach the third qualifying round of the Europa League.
“I think it’s just a bang, he’ll get checked out but we’re not too concerned about it,” said the manager. “He showed his importance again today, the first goal is always important. He’s in that area where we like him, and if we get the right deliveries and the right service into him he’ll score.
“The service in the first half wasn’t good enough. He’s a centre-forward, a number nine for Rangers, and he’s feeding off bits and scraps. That’s not good enough. Second half, we got the service into him, and he delivered.”
Although full of admiration for Morelos, Gerrard also hinted the striker would be admonished for receiving a booking after rushing to confront Wigan’s Samy Morsy following a rash tackle on winger Daniel Candeias. “I’ll deal with that,” said the manager.
Morelos was replaced by Sadiq, who scored Rangers’ third shortly after entering the field for his debut, but Gerrard doesn’t expect the 21-year-old Nigerian to be operating at full pelt for another month. “Sadiq has been in for three weeks and he’s probably 50 per cent through his pre-season,” said the manager. “He still needs another two or three weeks to sharpen up because he’s only 60-70 per cent fit.
“Then he’s going to need games to be the finished thing, but I think you saw glimpses of why we brought him in. He’s a handful, he’s got pace, he’s difficult to handle when he’s aggressive. I was pleased with bits of his play but we’re not going to see the real Sadiq for probably three to four weeks.”