Demetri Mitchell’s return from injury is a welcome tonic for the Hearts manager Craig Levein.
His team have little left to play for this season, so welcoming the on-loan Manchester United defender back to Riccarton this week is a timely filip. Mitchell could even start tomorrow night’s match against Aberdeen.
A torn meniscus in February ruled him out for eight weeks but the defender’s determination to play again before the season ends has brought him back into contention. After undergoing rehabilitation at United and training with their Under-23 squad last week, he arrived back in Edinburgh over the weekend. He resumed training with Hearts on Monday and is in the squad for the trip to Pittodrie.
His recovery means Levein can end the season with a recognised left-back. The embattled Hearts manager has contended with inconsistent results, playing home games at BT Murrayfield and a catalogue of injury problems throughout the campaign. Mitchell’s return is a minor but nontheless helpful piece of news.
“Is it ahead of schedule? I remember saying he might be back for the last couple of games of the season. He trained two days at Man United last week and came back here on Monday. We’ll just have to wait and see for tomorrow,” said Levein.
“The injury is alright. That’s healed. My only question is whether he has done enough work to be ready to play 90 minutes. The balance of the team has been thrown back out of kilter without him. We’re playing right-footed players at left-back.
“I want to get him back in as quickly as possible. Whether that means Friday or not, we just have to see. Sometimes younger ones can find it more difficult getting back up to speed than an experienced player. If it was Christophe [Berra] who missed five or six weeks, I feel he’s seen enough and done enough to go back in without too much drop-off in his performance.”
So impressive was Mitchell in nine games for Hearts before injury struck that Levein wants him to return on loan next season. “Yes, if I could. There’s a lot of water to flow under the bridge between now and a decision being made on that. We’ll see how it goes.”
His involvement tomorrow will partly depend on deputy left-back Marcus Godinho’s knee injury.
“I’d like to say the two things aren’t tied in but if Marcus doesn’t make it I’d be more likely to think about Demi,” admitted Levein. “I need to have a good look at him. He was blowing a bit on Monday having not done anything of really high intensity. He was training with the Under-23s at Man United. The next two days will tell me. Maybe Marcus’ injury will have an influence on it.”
Anything which aids Hearts’ cause away from home should be regarded as a positive. Their form outwith Tynecastle has been sub-standard for years.
“Go back ten seasons – other than the Championship season, our away record is pretty poor. That’s something I need to address for next season,” stressed Levein. “Last season we only got three away wins. We have four so far this season and the maximum we can get now is six. We reached double figures in the Championship season so there’s room for improvement, which I quite like.
“I think it’s down to two things. There’s the mentality but there’s also confidence as well. We need to start next season a positive manner and that’s why I’m trying to do as much business as I can as early as possible – to give us time to work on how we’re going to play because it’s been pretty disjointed, in all honesty.”
St Johnstone striker Steven MacLean and Cambridge United forward Uche Ikpeazu are secured on pre-contracts. Inverness winger Jake Mulraney is the next incoming.
“Bringing players in gives me a clear idea of what we’re planning on doing. We’ll have two [players in mind for each position]. We’ll have one and we’ll have a second one in case something does not happen.”
Goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin is definitely leaving and Levein is adamant he wants an experienced replacement. Attempts to lure Hull City’s Allan McGregor to his native Edinburgh look doomed with Rangers favourites for his signature.
“I’ve said I’m looking to bring in a more senior goalkeeper. What that means, we’ll have to wait and see,” said Levein, coyly.
“I’m pretty clear Jon will not be here next season, I’m not sure if he’ll say that. He’s got some interest from fairly big clubs who pay good money. I spoke to him at the start of the season and he might have gone to Hull. He turned down a new contract at Burton to get something bigger and he got injured. He ended up scrambling around a bit.
“He’s been brilliant for us. What he has helped with is that I know clearly that we need an experienced goalkeeper to handle the pressures.
“Since he’s been in the team he’s brought a calmness and allows everybody in the stadium to feel like everything is fine and he’s in control. That’s clear in my head at this moment that we need to do the same again.”
Hearts also need to inject a touch of panache outfield. Exciting supporters is something they haven’t done too much of this season and Levein is acutely aware of the situation.
He draws a clearly defined line between home displays and those away from home in his assessments.
“I think our home performance have been pretty good,” he argued. “We had a sticky spell when we came back from Murrayfield but even then that consisted of drawing matches. Our football is good at home and that’s something to do with confidence and being at Tynecastle.
“Our away form, sometimes we’ve played quite well and not got what we deserved from the match. There has to be more consistent performances away from home. When I look at the last ten years, it’s no different.”