Hearts manager Gary Locke has responded defiantly to news that winger David Smith is out for up to six weeks, insisting his team will not compromise on their attacking philosophy.
Scans yesterday revealed an unexpected hairline fracture in Smith’s knee, ruling the in-form 20-year-old out for between four and six weeks. Locke must now plan a team to face Inverness this weekend without the injured Smith, Jason Holt and Jamie Walker, plus the suspended pairing of Callum Paterson and Kevin McHattie.
The manager is likely to deploy Ryan Stevenson at right midfield in place of Smith, with Sam Nicholson on the opposite flank as his only orthodox winger. Locke stressed Hearts will be set up to go forward as they seek vital points in the battle against relegation.
“I’ll still be putting out a team to go forward because we’re at the stage in the season where we simply need to win. I like my teams to attack and that will still be the case,” he told the Evening News. “If Ryan Stevenson plays in place of David, then it won’t be two out-and-out wingers because Stevenson is a different type of player. However, the team will still be set out to attack.
“I’ve got Ryan Stevenson who can play out there in David’s position and Billy King can play there as well. Callum Paterson might have been the most obvious one, but he’s suspended, along with Kevin McHattie. That means we’ll be pretty threadbare and I’ll probably struggle even to fill the bench again.
“It’s a blow losing David because he had been doing really well in our last six or seven games and showing the form he’s really capable of. Previous to that, he had been in and out but he was showing great consistency.”
Locke must also solve a conundrum in defence given that McHattie is Hearts’ only specialist left-back. “It’s a problem because we only really have one recognised left-back at the club. Players have filled in there in the past. Jamie Hamill has gone to left-back and Jordan McGhee has played there. We’ll have a look at things this week before we make a decision.
“Inverness is a difficult place to go and they’re doing well just now. They’ve had another result at the weekend in the Scottish Cup after coming back [to draw with Stranraer] late in the game. They’ll be high on confidence after beating us in the semis of the League Cup, but we’re going up there looking to try and win.”