RYAN STEVENSON has assured Hearts manager Gary Locke that he has fully recovered from his hamstring trouble and is now set to play a key role in the New Year Edinburgh derby.
Stevenson convinced Locke to start him in yesterday’s 1-1 draw with St Mirren and he is expected to lead the Hearts forward line at Hibs.
The 29-year-old was due to miss four to six weeks with the injury, but, after a three-game absence, he was back in the team at St Mirren Park. His hold-up and link-up play gave Locke options he has desperately missed for most of December.
The timing of Stevenson’s return was acclaimed by the manager today. The player had only trained for three days and had to persuade Locke he was ready for a comeback. Having scored the winning goal against Hibs in October’s League Cup quarter-final, he will be out to repeat the feat on Thursday.
“You know what you’re going to get with Ryan,” said Locke. “Earlier in the season, he scored a cracking goal against Hibs and hopefully he can do the same on Thursday. He can hold the ball in, which is important for us, because it lets us get up the pitch. We haven’t been doing that in recent weeks. When he plays, I think you see a difference in our play.
“He is a fit lad and his recovery from injuries is nothing short of remarkable. One of the things that worried me was he’s been out for a wee while and we have big games coming up so we didn’t want to lose him for longer. I was adamant with him that he had to tell me the truth. I didn’t want to put him in at 70 per cent fit. It had to be 100.
“He had worked hard over the last few days and he’d done a lot of running. He assured me he was okay and that was good enough for me. Everybody saw the importance of him to the team yesterday. When Jamie Hamill’s in that form as well, you can see how influential the two of them are. Hamill scored a great goal but I thought his overall performance was magnificent. He has been getting a wee bit frustrated with the way things have been going. I think he feels he has to take on everything and try to do other people’s jobs. Yesterday he did his job and organised others round about him. It was a real top-class performance.”