Craig Levein mulls over handing Uche Ikpeazu early Hearts return

Uche Ikpeazu is now back in full Hearts training. Pic: SNS
Uche Ikpeazu is now back in full Hearts training. Pic: SNS
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Hearts manager Craig Levein will decide today whether striker Uche Ikpeazu can make an early return from injury against Livingston. Full-back Michael Smith is doubtful and Levein will make a final call on both players prior to kick-off this evening.

Ikpeazu only began full training at Riccarton on Monday and is more likely to make his comeback against Auchinleck Talbot in Sunday’s Scottish Cup tie. He hasn’t played since early October due to foot surgery.

Smith aggravated a groin against Kilmarnock on Friday night and was substituted. Fellow full-back Marcus Godinho, who missed the 2-1 win at Rugby Park, has recovered from a foot complaint.

“Godinho is okay. I was wary about playing him on the astroturf pitch at Kilmarnock with him having that knee problem previously,” said Levein. “Uche trained on Monday for the first time with the squad and looked really good.

“I don’t know if I can twist his arm to go on the bench tomorrow. It might be too soon. Michael has trained a little bit but we have to see how he is. It will be a late call.”

Levein will make some alterations to his line-up tonight despite Friday’s inspiring win. “Changing the team after winning used to be something I would be reluctant to do, but not now,” he said.

“I think we can maybe gain an edge with players who haven’t played a lot of games in a short space of time. I will probably make one or two changes to freshen things up and give us a bit more energy.”

The manager also responded jokingly to comments from Kilmarnock’s Steve Clarke following Friday’s match. Clarke stated Hearts were difficult to beat because they had “three big lumps defending their goal”.

His reference to centre-backs John Souttar, Conor Shaughnessy and Christophe Berra drew a sarcastic answer from Levein: “Uche will be back soon. That’s four lumps. Peter [Haring] – five lumps,” he smirked.

“Listen, it was Steve just having a moan. We all do it. It’s just normal, if you lose. I’ve done it once or twice myself. The result down at Kilmarnock is a good one. That’s twice we’ve won down there this year. So that’s the positive.

“What Steve says after the game is neither here nor there. We all have a moan after games sometimes, so he’s entitled to say what he thinks.

“I will disagree with him on this occasion.”

Austrian midfielder Haring is close to returning from double hernia surgery but is still a week or so away from match action.

“I would doubt Peter will be involved on Sunday,” admitted Levein. “I think he will be a week behind Uche by the looks of things. He has been running and he is now at the stage where he will be joining training.”

David Vanecek is restored to the Hearts squad to face Livingston after rolling his ankle in training.

“He’s good. He has lost four kilos now. He trained yesterday so we will be involved against Livingston,” said Levein.