Hearts temper Liam Boyce and Beni Baningime injury hope as ex-star in Robert Snodgrass 'car crash' claim

Hearts interim boss Steven Naismith has played down hope of Liam Boyce and Beni Baningime being involved in the team’s clash with Ross County on Saturday afternoon.

The duo have rejoined the first-team for training after long-term injuries. Boyce has been out since August when he suffered a cruciate ligament injury in a win over St Johnstone, while Baningime has not featured in more than a year following a similar injury last season.

With Michael Smith set to miss out this weekend, fans’ hopes were raised with footage of the Northern Irish forward taking part in training ahead of Premiership encounter with the Staggies at Tynecastle Park. However, Naismith, speaking to Sky Sports, tempered expectation.

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"The answer to that is I don’t know exactly,” he said when asked how far Boyce is away from first-team action. “What we do know is him and Beni are back in the group. That’s not full sessions, that's not we’ll see how they are come Friday afternoon. That’s early stages, being back involved in the group, to get involved in warm-ups, the technical drills we do with potential to go a bit further. But that’ll be scaled up in the next month and that will be determined by the physios and how these players are feeling. It’s great to have them around the group, there’s loads of experience, especially with Boycie and everybody is delighted to have them back.”

‘Car crash of a conclusion’

Meanwhile, former Hearts attacker Ryan Stevenson has come out in defence of Robert Snodgrass with the player not expected to play for the club again. The midfielder was suspended for the weekend's loss to Hibs but Naismith revealed he would not be part of his plans after replacing Robbie Neilson. Stevenson told the Daily Record he believes the ex-Scotland international has been made a “scapegoat”.

"Two wrongs don't make a right," he said. “They were wrong to appoint Naismith and even more wrong to bin Snodgrass. Look at the two derby games Robert played in. They won them both 3-0. He controlled the midfield.

"I know Robert well. He is absolutely gutted. It's up to him to give his side of the story if and when he wants. But I know he was not the one driving to get out. Quite the opposite. For me he has been made a scapegoat. The last few weeks he hasn't played to the best of his ability but over the course of the season he has been Hearts' best player alongside Lawrence Shankland.

Hearts duo Beni Baningime and Liam Boyce have returned to first-team training.  (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)Hearts duo Beni Baningime and Liam Boyce have returned to first-team training.  (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
Hearts duo Beni Baningime and Liam Boyce have returned to first-team training. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

"He brought quality, experience of playing at an elite level for years and a hunger to improve the club. That last part is exactly what Hearts need but any suggestion he was a bad influence in the dressing room is utter rubbish. That's not how he conducts himself. He has played for Scotland and numerous Premier League clubs and has there ever been a single mention of him upsetting a dressing room? Not once. Top managers when they speak about Robert only ever say positive things. Robert would have been trying to help every player in that dressing room.

He added: "This was a knee-jerk decision and it will make the task of trying to salvage something from this car crash of a conclusion to the season even harder."



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