Craig Levein still hopeful of permanent Hearts deal for Steven Naismith despite injury

Craig Levein does not know how long he will be without Steven Naismith but he is certain the Scot will return to action as soon as possible, claiming he is desperate to earn his 50th cap and secure a place in the Hall of Fame.

Steven Naismith suffered his knee injury in last months league clash with Celtic and has now been ruled out of action for two months. Picture: SNS.
Steven Naismith suffered his knee injury in last months league clash with Celtic and has now been ruled out of action for two months. Picture: SNS.

Going under the knife to deal with A problematic knee cartilage on Monday, the former Everton striker is expected to be out for up to two months, which would rule him out for the rest of the season.

But the Hearts boss, who remains keen to tie up the on-loan forward on a permanent deal when his current contract with Norwich City expires this summer, is hoping the big post-split games, allied to his quest for more national recognition, will inspire the 32-year-old to battle back to fitness sooner.

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The timing of the latest injury means he will miss out when Alex McLeish names his Scotland squad for this month’s games against Kazakhstan and San Marino.

But Levein says he is confident he will be pushing for inclusion in the June head-to-heads with Cyprus and Belgium, as the nation tries to successfully
negotiate a qualifying campaign and book a place at a major finals for the first time since 1998.

While there are no guarantees, that carrot is one major reason why the player and the club are reticent to rule out a return to action before the end of the domestic season.

“It depends how long our season goes on,” said Levein. “He came back earlier than expected last time so hopefully he’ll do the same this time.

“It’s not the same as last time. It’s cartilage, he’s getting a wee bit shaved again. He felt it in the Motherwell game and it got worse after that.”

The club’s top scorer came off at half-time in the recent league fixture against Celtic and did not feature as the side failed to overcome Partick Thistle in the Scottish Cup quarter-final on Monday night, being forced to settle for a replay at Tynecastle next week.

But having sat out two months earlier in the season, Levein does not believe Naismith will linger on the sidelines any longer than is absolutely necessary.

“I feel so sorry for him,” added the manager. “He’s been brilliant for us. He got back in the Scotland squad and he’s now sitting on 49 caps, which is remarkable. He is desperate to play another match for Scotland.

“Also, Scotland have the best chance of qualifying for the Euros for a long time.

“Normally players aren’t too keen on the summer matches but I’m sure he’ll be the first name [asking to be] on the teamsheet. I haven’t spoken to Alex but Steven got himself in pole position and played as a striker in most of the recent matches.”

Hearts hope that his quest to push through rehab quickly for the second time this season will benefit them as well.

A side who stuttered drastically in his absence last time out, they have lost only five of the 27 games in which he has played this term, two of them against Celtic, when he left the field after five minutes in the League Cup semi-final and at half-time last week.

They have also struggled to score goals when he is not in the starting line-up. But the Hearts boss believes his squad is better placed to absorb the loss of the influential player this time.

“We have more options,” said Levein. “Craig Wighton is now fit and has played a couple of reserve games. He’s looking the best he’s looked since he arrived at the club. He’s had some issues and had to bulk up muscle wise around previous injuries. He damaged his ankle in training a couple of months ago and was out for a while but that’s allowed him to do other stuff to make sure he is in a position to train everyday.

“David Vanecek played the other day and did his best numbers for his GPS, much higher than previously. He’s ready to go so we don’t have the same dearth of attacking players we had when Steven and Uche [Ikpeazu] were out earlier in the season.”