Craig Levein has challenged Hearts to bounce back from a chastening fortnight and regain some momentum in the closing months of the season.
After a strong run of form from November to February, the Tynecastle side’s last two fixtures have resulted in damaging away defeats by Motherwell and Hibs in the Scottish Cup and Premiership respectively. Those back-to-back setbacks have exasperated supporters and effectively left Hearts with only fifth place in the league to play for in their remaining eight matches.
Levein knows the situation is far from ideal, and has called for a strong reaction from his team, starting against Partick Thistle at Tynecastle today.
“We’ve had two fairly hefty knocks, the cup one probably bigger because in the second half we were on top and we lost a goal when a boy (Carl McHugh) who’s never kicked a ball with his right foot puts one in the top corner from 25 yards,” the manager told the Evening News.
“Obviously losing to Hibs at Easter Road is tough. But the thing now is to focus on what we can do in the next three games to make sure we get into the top six. Am I happy with just making the top six? No. But considering everything that’s happened, with Ian (Cathro) leaving, Jon (Daly) taking temporary charge, and then me coming in, and the stand project which has made things tough, we’ve had a lot to deal with. The supporters just want to see us win and I want to see us win. So my task is to finish this season strongly and get us in a better position next season. It’s that simple.”
Hearts currently sit sixth in the Premiership, four points ahead of a Motherwell side who have a game in hand. Levein is hopeful that today’s return to Tynecastle, where Hearts haven’t lost all season, can help get them back on track after five games without a win. “It’s a home game and there are reasons to be confident going into it,” said Levein. “Our home record is good. We have some injuries but it seems like we’ve been dealing with that situation all season.”
Among those missing through injury are on-loan pair David Milinkovic and Demetri Mitchell. Levein confirmed that Milinkovic will be sidelined for another couple of weeks with a knee problem, while Mitchell, also afflicted by a knee injury, is unlikely to be available until May. Regarding the prospect of the Manchester United left-back remaining at Tynecastle beyond the expiry of his loan deal in the summer, Levein said: “I haven’t had a definitive conversation about that yet but rest assured we’d like to keep him.”
Captain Christophe Berra is expected to play despite taking painkilling injections for an ankle problem recently. John Souttar, who has been troubled by a hamstring problem recently, is also likely to play, while Don Cowie could return. Harry Cochrane, who sustained a muscle injury at Easter Road last week, is out with long-term absentees Arnaud Djoum, Jamie Brandon and Rory Currie.