Steven Naismith’s race to be fit for the Scottish Cup final looks set to go down to the wire.
Hearts’ talisman has been sidelined with a knee injury since February and manager Craig Levein has no idea at this stage if he will be ready for the Hampden showdown with Celtic five weeks on Saturday. “I don’t know,” said Levein. “I could say he has a chance but the way I look at it is, if he’s fit, it will be a huge bonus for us. I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket by saying he’s going to be fit.
“I’d rather expect him not to be fit. If I put the onus on him being fit and he isn’t, that would be a big disappointment.
“It’s about wanting to keep my head clear for all the games coming up, not constantly thinking: ‘I hope Naisy’s back next week, I hope he’s back next week, next week...’ It gives him something to aim for and he’ll be doing his best to make the final, for sure.”
Levein admits Hearts miss Naismith’s experience in the attacking department of the team. “He brings his understanding of the game to our team,” said the manager. “I’ve got players who I can rely on, like I rely on Naisy. Players like Christophe Berra, John Souttar, Arnaud Djoum, Peter Haring and Michael Smith. Naisy was probably more important because he was at the front end of the team.
“Without him there, we’ve got Steven MacLean, who is obviously 36, nearly 37. We don’t have that person in the front line who keeps everybody calm and makes good decisions. So I’m then relying on Uche (Ikpeazu), who is a real handful, but, again, he doesn’t have that experience or knowledge that Steven Naismith has.
“Or there’s the likes of Jake Mulraney, a fantastic player who was great against Inverness but he doesn’t have that knowledge, experience and calmness that Steven brings to the team.
“So we miss him for his football and we miss him because of the other things he brings to the team.”