Cammy Devlin injury blow for Hearts, latest on Liam Boyce, goals issue addressed ahead of Aberdeen trip
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Hearts have been dealt an injury blow with the news that midfielder Cammy Devlin will be missing until potentially after the winter break. He is expected to miss around a month of football with an ankle injury that is worse than first thought, which could take him into January's three-week Premiership hiatus.
The 25-year-old underwent a scan which showed damage in the area and medical staff say he will be out for around four weeks. Hearts travel to Aberdeen on Saturday without him, but striker Liam Boyce has an outside chance of recovering from a leg knock in time.
“Friday will be a big day for Boycie, we will wait and see. It’s a race against time," admitted Steven Naismith, the Hearts head coach. "Cammy got a scan as a precaution. There’s more damage than he was feeling the day after he came back in, so he is looking at being a month."
Naismith welcomed four experienced figures back into his squad for Wednesday night's meeting with Rangers - Craig Gordon, Craig Halkett, Barrie McKay and Nathaniel Atkinson. Their return from injury immediately strengthens competition.
"It’s good. Probably, subconsciously, it raises the quality in training," said Naismith. "Players will be trying to work out the squad, who’s available, how many get into the squad, who am I vying for to be in the squad? It definitely brings that laser focus for each individual."
He is also ready to become unpopular when leaving certain players out. "That’s part of it! I’ve had to deal with that recently. You just have to be honest," he said. "These decisions are not personal. It’s a footballing decision and I’m very clear that week-to-week it could change. Gone are the days of rolling out the same team all the time and that gets you your win. That plays a part to build momentum but the tactics involved in the games are so refined that small margins make big differences.
"We put Nat Atkinson back in from the start against Rangers. It was a big ask but he’s got good experience and the opportunity to go more offensive at half-time gave us that leeway to take him back out. It was a good 45 minutes to build him up. Alex Lowry comes back into the squad. It’s competition but this game is different. We’ve played Aberdeen twice since I’ve been in charge and had two good results playing a different shape."
After their four-game winning Premiership run was ended by Rangers, the Hearts management team must decide whether to continue with a three-man defence or change to a four at Pittodrie. At the other end of the pitch, only St Johnstone and Livingston have scored less league goals than Hearts this season. However, the Edinburgh club sit third in the table.
"I feel we have created good chances in a lot of games but just not scored," said Naismith. "On Wednesday we had a couple of opportunities where we should have made an extra pass, or somebody takes too many touches to get their shot off.
"When I first took over, we were good at getting shots off and taking chances. We want to do that but I’m pretty comfortable with that because I think we have players here who can score goals and are sharp enough around the box to score goals. As long as we keep winning, that will click into action at some point."