Hearts manager Craig Levein is facing a selection crisis ahead of Sunday’s match with Celtic. Defender John Souttar is suspended and his potential replacement Aaron Hughes is still injured, as are forward Jamie Walker and midfielder Arnaud Djoum.
All four are experienced members of Hearts’ squad and Levein is praying the injuries heal over the next few days. If not, the manager admitted he may have little choice than to use 16-year-olds Harry Cochrane and Anthony McDonald against the unbeaten Ladbrokes Premiership champions.
Souttar received his sixth league booking of the season against Hamilton two weeks ago which earned him a one-match ban this weekend. Hughes took an injection to help his troublesome calf last week, while Walker has a tight hamstring and Djoum was forced off by a calf knock during Tuesday night’s win over Dundee.
“Aaron will come into contention if we can get him patched up and ready to play. That would be the obvious solution, but I don’t know if he’s going to be ready,” Levein explained. “He had an injection in his back last Friday which seems to have settled the calf problem down, but I don’t know if Sunday is going to be too soon.”
“Arnaud got a kick on his calf near the Achilles. He’s been getting treatment for the last four or five weeks. He’s the type of boy who wants to hold on to the ball, but some of the tackles have been horrendous. He’s taken a bit of a battering. He’s been scissor-tackled, he’s had kicks on his knee, and now it’s a kick on the calf. He’s a durable boy but it’s frustrating to watch at times.
“It’s too early to tell if he will make Sunday. Him and Walker are the two I’m most concerned about.”
Should Hughes be deemed unfit, midfielder Prince Buaben may need to play as an emergency centre-back. “It’s not his best position but I don’t know. We’ll have to do something,” said Levein.
Cochrane and McDonald both impressed against Dundee but Levein is reluctant to throw them in against Celtic. “I’d love to have Aaron fit along with Djoum and Walker. That would make my choices a little bit easier,” he continued. “I’m not sure it’s a game for those two young kids but I might have no choice. It depends what happens with the injuries.
“Don Cowie and Kyle Lafferty will come back in. I didn’t play them on Tuesday as I was worried about them. Don is almost 35 and Kyle had that virus recently. I was concerned it might floor him if we played him on Tuesday after he played on Saturday. We got away with it, which gives me two fresh players for Sunday.”