Craig Levein admits that Steven Naismith recall was too soon

Steven Naismith has been struggling with a hamstring injury recently. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS
Steven Naismith has been struggling with a hamstring injury recently. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS
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Hearts manager Craig Levein has conceded that accelerating Steven Naismith’s return to the team at the start of the season is part of the reason the Scotland striker remains sidelined.

Naismith’s own target of being available for tomorrow’s visit of Rangers will not be realised, according to Levein.

Having returned to pre-season bereft of fitness following two separate knee operations last term – the second of which was in March – Naismith sustained a hamstring strain in the opening weekend of the Premiership in the defeat at Aberdeen.

The 33-year-old has only managed a total of 78 minutes of action this term across three games up until 31 August, and failed to collect his landmark 50th cap for Scotland last month due to injury, despite joining up with the squad.

Past experience has taught Levein to err on the side of caution in not considering the former Rangers and Everton player for duty this weekend.

“I did bring him back maybe a little bit sooner than was needed,” said Levein.

“It is a constant fight when you are sitting looking at players in the stand who could have a big impact on the performance on the field. There is a temptation to try to hurry that process up.

“He hasn’t played a 90 minutes since February, so essentially there is the problem – he didn’t do pre-season.

“His body is de-conditioned a little bit. That means there is this gradual process to get him back up to full fitness.

“I think we’ve jumped to get him back – one, for me to get him back in the team and, two, for his eagerness to play for Scotland.

“He had muscle injuries when he came back before. Then he went right into the Scotland stuff. He is sitting one cap away from 50 matches for Scotland and getting into the Hall of Fame.

“To be fair, I should probably have taken him out of that environment and just kept a hold of him. But he is sitting one cap away.

“So now I’m just being ultra-cautious with him. He is not far away from being involved.”

The return of midfielder Peter Haring from a pelvic complaint for the first time this season and striker Uche Ikpeazu’s recovery from a hamstring strain will, however, bolster an injury-ravaged side against Rangers.

Aaron Hickey, the hugely talented 17-year-old, is expected to again start at left-back amid continuing interest from Manchester City. Rangers were also linked with the teenager.

“I’m not getting involved

in any of the talk,” replied Levein after being asked about Hickey. “Our primary concern is to secure Aaron on a longer-term contract and we are working on that.”