'Could be ready in a month' - Hearts boss gives positive timeline claim on long-term injuries
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It was an extremely successful trip out for Steven Naismith and his squad on Saturday as Heart of Midlothian beat Motherwell 2-1 to head into the international break with three valuable points and fourth place in the Scottish Premiership.
It has been far from an easy ride for the Gorgie boys this first quarter as they have contended with, at times, an exceptionally tight schedule as well as several long-term injury concerns.
The international break has come at a critical time for some of those injury-stricken players with Naismith hoping it won’t be long after Hearts’ return to action that we could see the likes of Craig Gordon and Craig Halkett back out on the grass.
Both 'Craigs' have been out of action since last December. While Gordon suffered a severe leg break, Halkett sustained an ACL injury which has seen the pair frequent the Hearts medical suite for the best part of a year.
Speaking to Edinburgh News, Naismith confirmed that while Barrie McKay and Nathaniel Atkinson remain sidelined for the foreseeable future, the 40-year-old keeper and 28-year-old defender Halkett could make their squad return soon.
“At the start of this week we had an internal XI v XI”, Naismith said. “It was really good for them and that's what their next month looks like. We play a game next week.
“That's the period we're in, it's been good for them. They'll be looking back at the next couple of weeks and gone 'I've progressed, it's been intense and it's hard work - now we need that for the next month'.
"(Gordon and Halkett) could be ready [in a month's time]. Every week that passes and the more game-time they get, it's minimising that risk of anything going wrong. But it's not just 'they were out with a knee injury or leg break that's the problem', it's every other muscle, because they've not done anything for six months out on the pitch.
“I've experienced it myself. One wrong move when you're pushing your limits sets you back two or three weeks. That's why we are in that period. Being more reserved about it, the winter break is when they'll be back in contention."
As for the other longer term concerns, Naismith admitted it could still be a while. “Baz (Barrie McKay) has been out jogging and Natty Atkinson as well, both of them have been out on the grass today but it's still very early on for them”.
With four key figures out of the picture, as well as the (hopefully) shorter term concerns of Odel Offiah, Naismith has utilised stars from Hearts’ B team such as Aiden Denholm who came on in the second half against Rangers at Hampden.
However, the 37-year-old former striker has criticised the rules and regulations that surround the use of academy and ‘B’ team players. While B team fixtures could have been an ideal setting in which Gordon and Halkett could have made their match-day returns, they would then be ineligible to play in subsequent matches for the Premiership side.
When asked whether the goalkeeper and defender would feature in Hearts’ B team squads, Naismith confirmed: “No.
“Some of those rules need to be checked up and changed because it does hamper, not so much them, but Aidan Denholm, for instance. He's played X amount of games in the first team, he can't play for the B team, which is a bad rule if we are trying to develop players.
“Don't get me wrong, overall the Lowland League has been excellent for us as a club, but as the partnership grows and develops, we need to tweak things and get things better - for everybody.”