Hearts midfielder Arnaud Djoum is unlikely to play again before the winter break after sustaining an achilles injury against Dundee in midweek.
Craig Levein revealed that he expects the Cameroon internationalist to miss this month’s four remaining fixtures against Celtic, St Johnstone, Hibs and Aberdeen before the Premiership clubs take a three-week timeout in January.
“Arnaud got a kick on his achilles and in the last few games he has been smashed in every one of them about a dozen times,” said the manager. “He has damaged his tendon. I don’t think we will see him this side of the winter break.”
Hearts are also set to be without injured trio Jamie Walker, Aaron Hughes and Krystian Nowak, along with the suspended John Souttar for tomorrow’s match against Celtic, leaving the manager short of options, particularly at centre-back. Prince Buaben, Michael Smith, Danny Baur or Rafal Grzelak are the likeliest contenders to partner captain Christophe Berra. “Prince is the obvious choice to go in at centre-back but with Arnaud and Jamie being out, we are a bit light in the midfield area,” said Levein. “I will wait until the last minute and see who is available and cobble something together.”
The personnel issues raise the possibility of Levein having to pitch some of his teenagers into battle against the champions, with 16-year-old pair Anthony McDonald and Harry Cochrane among those in contention after contributing to Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Dundee.
“In an ideal world I wouldn’t play the youngsters in this match but with the problems that I have got I will have to consider it,” he said. “They are playing too early in my opinion because of their (lack of) physicality. I would wait another couple of years, but they are so good on the ball and they are fearless. If they are fearless, then I feel it is wrong of me not to be the same and give them an opportunity.
“Having them train with the first team has given me the confidence. Also, it has given the other players confidence to pass the ball to them. They see them every day and they understand that they know what they’re doing.”
Levein is hopeful that the visit of Celtic can help ensure Tynecastle is at its most raucous. The manager has been encouraged by an improvement in the atmosphere in recent matches in Gorgie, both as a result of the new main stand being opened and supporters starting to make some noise after a period in which the stadium had notably lost its buzz amid a string of underwhelming results over the past year or so.
“We’ve had glimpses in the last couple of weeks of supporter activity, which has been great for the players,” said the manager. “Us winning and playing well coincides with the supporters doing their thing so I am hoping we can play well against Celtic.
“I’m hoping we can get everyone right behind us in a positive sense and see if we can try and win the game. The stand without doubt is an improvement, even in the last couple of games the noise has been really incredible. And Celtic will have that whole (Roseburn) stand as well.”
Levein will lock horns for the first time with Brendan Rodgers, who questioned Hearts’ management structure in August following Ian Cathro’s dismissal.Interim manager Jon Daly hit back by branding the Celtic boss’s comments “disgusting” and “disrespectful”.
Levein said: “I was annoyed. We all were. It was nothing to do with Brendan. As far as I am concerned it was a while ago and there’s no point dwelling on things. It’s gone.”