Suso Santana’s rally a big boost for Hearts

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MANAGER Paulo Sergio believes Suso Santana’s cameo outings from the substitutes bench could provide Hearts with some much-needed impetus in the coming weeks.

Suso looked to be on his way out of Tynecastle in the summer when he declared himself homesick and, although the club retained his services, he spent the first half of the season – barring a one-off outing in the Europa League clash at Tottenham in August – sidelined with a knee injury which has plagued him since last April.

After making his long-awaited return as a sub in the 5-2 demolition of St Mirren last month, Suso had a particularly notable impact in Hearts’ last two games – scoring an added-time equaliser at Kilmarnock in the SPL last Saturday and then winning the stoppage-time penalty which forced extra-time in the midweek Scottish Cup victory at St Johnstone.

Sergio insists the winger is still some way off being fit enough to play for 90 minutes, but the manager is confident the diminutive fans’ favourite can keep making a big impression from the bench as Hearts enter a crucial period in their season.

“I’m happy with Suso’s quality and what he’s given to the team in the periods I’ve put him in to play so far,” declared Sergio. “The question is whether, after eight or nine months out, he is able to return in the middle of the competition without the chance to play friendlies. That makes it hard for him. I don’t believe he is ready to play ninety minutes yet, but I feel he can give us something different each week when he comes off the bench. If he plays five minutes more each week then hopefully he can play 90 minutes soon.”

While Sergio has not been able to call on Suso as much as he would have liked since taking the reins in August, the manager insists he was already well aware of his fellow Iberian’s qualities before his recent exploits.

“Suso has not been a revelation to me,” said Sergio. “Even though I have not had him available for months because of his injury problems, I have been watching videos of his last few seasons here. I was studying what he can do and what his capacities are, so I knew what he could do before the last few matches. In his head, he believes he is ready to play 90 minutes – I like that desire. I like the strong character he shows every day and I like his commitment.”