Key Hearts defenders set to miss upcoming games after injury setbacks

Injury ill fortune continues to dog Hearts with both John Souttar and Michael Smith taking longer than anticipated to shrug off their respective ankle and hamstring strains.

Hearts defender John Souttar
Hearts defender John Souttar

Manager Craig Levein had hoped to have both defenders in contention for a first team return against Hamilton this afternoon but says they now face a race against time to be fit by the end of the international break and the league trip to Motherwell.

“John hasn’t progressed as well as we’d hoped so he went down to London to see a specialist and have another scan. The specialist gave him an injection which is a bit of steroid and painkiller so he’s in a moonboot for five days and after that we’ll progress it from there.

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“They’re hopeful that they’ve found the problem and the steroid will calm the whole thing down. It’s disappointing because I was hoping to have him back for this weekend but this will put him back a couple of weeks. He might make Motherwell but that might be me being hopeful.

“Michael's struggling a bit with his hamstring and won't play [against Hamilton]. Michael's had quite a few muscle injuries so he's quite good at recognising where he is in his recovery. I didn't think he’d make this game but I thought he'd definitely be available for the Motherwell game in a couple of weeks time."

The tight hamstring, which saw him go off early in the defeat to Celtic last weekend, could also jeopardise his chances of adding to his Northern Ireland caps, despite being named in Michael O’Neill’s squad for the games against Luxembourg and Germany.

“I’ll speak to Michael and see what the story is there,” said Levein, “but he wasn’t particularly positive. He’s definitely out of the Hamilton game and I think he’ll miss the Motherwell game as well.”

Steven Naismith will return to the side this afternoon, looking to make up for lost time and prove his match fitness ahead of joining up with Steve Clarke’s Scotland squad for the Euro qualifiers against Russia and Belgium.

Along with new signing Ryo Meshino, he will bolster the attacking options.

There will also be a return to the starting line-up for Colin Doyle, who has made just one first team appearance since February, having slipped down the pecking order behind Zdenek Zlamal and newest recruit Joel Pereira.

The former was sidelined by Levein following a jittery start to the new season, replaced by the latter. But the Manchester United loanee has returned to Old Trafford for treatment after he sustained a thigh strain.

“Joel will be ok for Motherwell. He’s gone from playing reserve football at Man United to being thrown into first-team training and matches in quick succession so he’s just got a little bit of a thigh strain from kicking. I’m hopeful that will settle down and he’ll be ready for Motherwell.”

While Doyle will start, Zlamal will be on the bench, having informed his manager that he intends to stay and try to recapture his position.

“I’ve had a long conversation with Bobby and he recognises why he came out the team. He wants to fight for his place and get himself back in which is good to hear. I took him out the spotlight for a bit to give him a chance to get his head back in gear and he’s been good in training. He’ll be on the bench this weekend but Colin will start.”