Hearts left with just three fit front men as Beni gets the boot

HEARTS have continued downsizing their first-team squad by dispatching Ricardas Beniusis back to FBK Kaunas in time for the start of this year's Lithuanian A Lyga.

The Evening News spoke to the striker in Lithuania today, where he is already preparing for Kaunas' season-opening match against Silute a week tomorrow.

Hearts brought Beniusis' season-long loan to a premature end earlier this week after he was deemed surplus to requirements by senior club management. He was booed off during a nightmare Tynecastle debut against Hibs last August and never properly recovered.

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In total, he made just one start and eight substitute appearances in Edinburgh and failed to score despite plundering 16 goals in 15 games as captain of Kaunas before his defection to Hearts.

Beniusis' departure follows those of Andrius Velicka, Linas Pilibaitis and Michal Pospisil since the turn of the year and further reduces the attacking options available to interim manager Stephen Frail.

"I am back with Kaunas now and I don't see myself returning to Hearts," said Beniusis. "We start the league season here on the 29th and I am looking forward to playing in that match."

Frail is consequently left with only three fit strikers for tomorrow's crucial SPL visit of Falkirk and is still digesting the news that wingers Andy Driver and Neil McCann are unlikely to play again this season. Driver tore his thigh at Love Street last weekend whilst McCann will undergo a weekend operation to remove a troublesome plate from the ankle he broke earlier the campaign.

Christian Nade's pelvic problem is expected to preclude him from facing Falkirk, meaning Calum Elliot and Jamie Mole are likely to continue their partnership in attack. Audrius Ksanavicius made a reserve appearance in midweek and should be available.

"Nade is very, very doubtful with this pelvis problem and we can't say how long he will be out for," admitted Frail.

Meanwhile, Hearts have made contact with their AWOL Romanian teenager Dumitru Copil, but the player is so far resisting attempts to lure him back to Scotland from his home town of Arad.