Craig Levein offers Robbie Neilson verdict and squad verdict amid 'difficult period'

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Craig Levein is backing Hearts to get through a “difficult period” of adverse results and a crippling injury list and believes the team will come good when key men return.

The former Hearts boss was speaking after Sunday’s 2-0 cinch Premiership defeat by Aberdeen at Pittodrie, when Andy Halliday and Peter Haring became the latest names on the casualty list. Halliday suffered an Achillies injury in the opening 10 minutes and Haring was stretchered off with concussion after a nasty clash of heads with Marley Watkins a few minutes after coming on from the bench. The addition of Halliday and Haring means Hearts now have 11 first-team players out injured.

Levein believes Robbie Neilson can take encouragement from the performance at Pittodrie and insists the Hearts manager is handling a difficult situation as well as could be expected. Neilson’s team have dropped to seventh in the table and are on a run of just one win from their last eight away games in the league after Alex Cochrane and Lawrence Shankland passed up good chances in the granite city. Hearts have recorded just five wins in 21 games and have suffered 10 defeats in 14.

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“It’s a tough time for Hearts at the moment, but it was great to see so many supporters at Pittodrie after all their recent travels,” said Levein on BBC Sportsound. “There’s enough there for Robbie to be fairly positive about things going forward. Take away all the injuries and the performance from some his players was good. He can talk about that in the dressing room.

“That’s another two players who will be out for a period of time. What does he do next week? I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes just now. He’s had a really difficult time of it. I think he’s done well to stay focussed, but I know how frustrated he’ll feel. He needs to talk about the players who can play and try to make them feel good about taking opportunities. He’s done that. That’s the right way to approach it. The players will come back. He just needs to get through this difficult period.”

Levein dismissed suggestions that Hearts did not start the season with a strong enough squad to cope with the demands of European and domestic football. He believes an extra central defender was perhaps the only missing part of the jigsaw at the end of the summer transfer window.

He continued: “When you’ve got 11 players injured, how many do you actually have to have? Do you say 50 because 11 might get injured? Who could have foreseen all this carnage that has ensued and left Robbie and the club in a difficult position, not through their own doing. A lot of them are impact injuries. If you’re getting regular muscle injuries, there’s something you can do about that and adjust. But impact injuries are a different thing altogether. They put on a good show for the Hearts supporters. I think the supporters appreciated the way Hearts played. Hearts did tire. There’s no doubt about that. But the attitude of the Hearts players was really good.”