Craig Levein plots derby plan as Hearts suffer double blow

Hearts have been dealt a double blow ahead of the first Edinburgh derby of the season with the news that Steven Naismith requires a cartilage operation which could rule him out for two months, while strike partner Steven MacLean has been issued with a SFA notice of complaint which could result in a two-match ban.

Hearts' Steven Naismith, right, is out injured while Steven MacLean faces SFA disciplinary action. Picture: SNS
Hearts' Steven Naismith, right, is out injured while Steven MacLean faces SFA disciplinary action. Picture: SNS

The violent conduct charge follows MacLean’s below-the-belt actions during Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final defeat by Celtic, when he was caught on camera grabbing the private parts of Eboue Kouassi.

If MacLean chooses to attend an SFA hearing scheduled for tomorrow to contest the charge he will still be available for this evening’s clash with Hibs at Tynecastle but could then be ruled out for Saturday’s Premiership trip to Celtic Park and next weekend’s home fixture against Kilmarnock.

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That will leave Hearts manager Craig Levein even more stretched as he looks to fill his frontline. He is already coping without summer signing Uche Ikpeazu, who has undergone a foot operation and will be out until the new year.

Naismith has also been sidelined for the remainder of the year and the on-loan player is set to undergo surgery after lasting only ten minutes of Sunday’s semi-final.

“Naisy looks like he’s got a cartilage problem so will need an operation,” Levein said. “It’s a bit more complicated than usual because he’s a Norwich player, so we need to send him back down there for an assessment. They, as a parent club, will decide what’s happening. But I’m pretty sure he’ll go under the knife in the next two or three days.”

Levein has been impressed by the resilience shown by table-topping Hearts this season and believes there is enough quality in the wings.

“There are people waiting to get in, and they bring a different energy to the group,” Levein said.

“Yes, of course, we’d like to have all of our top players fit and available, every manager would. But it’s good for the group to be able to handle adversity and that’s what we’ll have to do again.

“If this was last season and we’d lost all these players I’d be pulling my hair out because we just couldn’t get any momentum and these would have been bigger problems than they are this season.

“But I feel really good about this squad. I feel comfortable and I’m confident we can cope, but I don’t want any more injuries because it’s starting to annoy me a little bit.”

Predicting that his team would have “a helluva finish to the season when everyone is back” he said that in the meantime he had to remain focused on the here and now.

Levein has attacking options in Callumn Morrison and Danny Amankwaa and could bring in Craig Wighton or Sean Clare but fears that neither is ready for a full 90 minutes.