Hearts are to hold talks with veteran defender Aaron Hughes to decide whether he will stay at Tynecastle next season.
The 38-year-old is out of contract in May and could be invited to sign another one-year deal.
Much will depend on his own wishes and fitness but manager Craig Levein intends to address the issue with Hughes over the coming weeks. Levein is considering promoting the Northern Irishman to Hearts’ starting line-up for today’s Premiership match with Rangers at Ibrox to add experience to the defence.
“Yes, it’s in my thoughts,” admitted the manager. “When he’s been fit, I’ve used him fairly regularly. He’s just such a terrific professional. The things he does in the gym, how he looks after himself, the training he does, it all allows him to keep himself in peak condition.
“Aaron, like everyone else, is getting older. The problem is getting him to play three games in a short space of time. It’s really difficult. We’ve had to use him sparingly but he’s been very good when he’s played.”
On Hughes’ long-term future, Levein commented: “I’ll have a chat with him about what he wants to do. At some point he’ll retire but we haven’t sat down and gone over things.
“If he stayed here, it would have to fit in with what we want to do financially. On a purely football basis, he’s been good to have around. It’s just how many games he’s going to play.” Hughes’ presence would add yet more nous to a Hearts back line which has earned plenty praise recently. The club’s defenders have conceded just five goals in their past 13 matches in all competitions.
“The defence is tested every week and that’s why people have been talking about our defence – because of their level of consistency,” said Levein. “For me, anybody can play well in a match. The best players perform to a level every week. That then creates talk about their level of performance.
“The drop-off rate between the defence’s best performance and their worst has not been big. There is no big swing back and forward. If they don’t play well, their performance isn’t much below what their best is. That’s what we’ve been seeking, it’s what we’ve got and now we’ve got to protect it.”
Levein has yet to decide who will step into midfield to replace Arnaud Djoum against Rangers. The Cameroonian is out for up to eight months with a snapped Achilles and a few teenagers are in contention to step in.
“The youngsters likely to be involved are the same ones who have done well previously. If Steven Naismith doesn’t play, maybe Euan Henderson will get an opportunity or maybe Anthony McDonald. Harry Cochrane is close to being ready. I don’t know if he’ll make this game but he isn’t a million miles away.”