Craig Levein misses Hearts friendly to spy on cup rivals

Craig Levein was planning to watch Inverness play Cove Rangers today
Craig Levein was planning to watch Inverness play Cove Rangers today
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Jon Daly and Liam Fox will take charge of Hearts against Forfar today while manager Craig Levein spies on Betfred Cup opponents.

Levein will be in the Highlands to watch Inverness Caledonian Thistle against Cove Rangers, with Hearts due to start their Betfred Cup campaign against the latter on Wednesday. Austin MacPhee, currently mulling over an offer to manage Indian Super League side Pune City, was due to watch Raith Rovers against Cowdenbeath at Bayview and report back on the other two teams in Hearts’ section. That left first-team coaches Daly and Liam Fox in control for the Edinburgh club’s final pre-season friendly at Station Park.

“I’m going up to see Inverness against Cove,” explained Levein. “Jon and Foxy will take the team at Forfar.

“It will be a reasonably strong side, although I think we will have a young back line. I don’t want to play Peter Haring, John Souttar and Christophe Berra again after they played on Wednesday. I will just leave them for next week.”

Goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal is nursing an infected ankle which precluded him from Wednesday’s friendly against Queen of the South. “He didn’t play on Wednesday because he has an infection in his ankle. The strapping could irritate it so I just wanted to let it sort itself out before I put him back in the team,” said Levein.

Kyle Lafferty, Steven Naismith and Steven MacLean were also missing in Dumfries. The latter two tend not to play too often on synthetic surfaces like the one at Palmerston Park. “Lafferty’s back was bothering him and I just didn’t want to take a chance,” explained Levein. “He complained after training earlier in the week that his back was sore and it stiffened up overnight. He was due to play against Queen of the South but I didn’t see the point. With Naismith and MacLean, I’ve decided I will consider playing them on astroturf when we’re into the competitive season. There is no point doing it in pre-season friendlies. It doesn’t make sense.”

Naismith and MacLean did, however, feature yesterday as Hearts beat Norwegian side SK Brann’s Under-20s 2-1 in a closed-doors friendly at Oriam. MacLean put Hearts ahead on 16 minutes with Bartlomiej Gajda scoring a second-half winner.

Central defender Aaron Hughes, 38, made his first appearance of the summer, playing 78 minutes of the win.