Hearts manager Craig Levein admitted he would have cried at losing first-choice central defenders Christophe Berra and John Souttar had it not been for Clevid Dikamona and Jimmy Dunne.
The stand-in duo have looked solid in two games together so far – last Saturday’s 2-1 home win against Aberdeen and the 3-0 victory at Dundee on Tuesday night. They will pair up again for Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final with Celtic at BT Murrayfield.
Berra and Souttar are out until next year with hamstring and hip injuries respectively. Souttar underwent surgery yesterday and is not expected back until around March. Club captain Berra could return some time in January.
Until then, Congolese internationalist Dikamona and Burnley loanee Dunne are expected to continue their partnership, which is keeping Levein happy.
“Clevid and Jimmy have been good,” the manager told the Evening News. “To lose Christophe and John, if you said that to me at the start of the season then I’d have thought we would be toiling. They are arguably the best two centre-backs in Scotland.
“If you had told me in the summer that we would lose them both for long periods, I’d probably have broken down in tears. The way Clevid and Jimmy have managed to fill in has been great. They have made it look like we aren’t missing arguably our two best players.”
Levein explained that Hearts are playing slightly differently at the opposite end of the pitch without striker Uche Ikpeazu. The Englishman is also out until 2019 with a foot injury, leaving Steven Naismith and Steven MacLean as the two established forwards. Both scored against Dundee in midweek.
“Uche is different,” explained Levein. “He can occupy a back two or sometimes even a back three by himself. When we play with the two Stevens, it’s a different type of game. I’m thrilled that everybody is pushing on just now, though.
“Harry Cochrane came back from injury the other night against Dundee and Oliver Bozanic scored a good goal, so a lot of good things are happening.”