Craig Levein won’t assess Hearts’ fortunes until near Christmas because the manager feels he won’t gain a true indication of progress until then.
Today’s meeting with Rangers at BT Murrayfield will be the Edinburgh club’s 12th Premiership fixture of the season, none of which have taken place at Tynecastle.
The unsettling consequence of building a new main stand, plus a notable injury list which includes five key players, leaves Levein reluctant to gauge his team’s development right now.
Arnaud Djoum is still recovering from a medial knee ligament injury, while fellow midfielders Don Cowie and Prince Buaben have hamstring problems. Veteran defender Aaron Hughes injured his calf and Ashley Smith-Brown has had relentless niggling issues since joining Hearts on loan from Manchester City in July.
None of the above will be fit to face Rangers. Levein admitted today he is unsure how well his team are faring due to the rare set of circumstances currently at play.
“Historically, a lot of our points were picked up at home. We haven’t had the comfort of playing at Tynecastle with a full stadium behind us. Murrayfield has been good but it’s not the same as Tynecastle,” he told the Evening News.
“Once we’ve played the same amount of home games as we have away games then I’ll have a better idea of where we are. I’d like to wait until there’s an even balance of home and away matches.
“It’s quite difficult just now to work out just how well we’re doing. We’d like to win every game, we’ve had problems. The players have worked hard and I’ve no complaints about that but we haven’t played well at times. Again, that’s maybe down to personnel.
“I’m hopeful we’ll get everybody back in the next month, so by the mid-December point we should have a fair idea of where we are.”
Hearts face Rangers at the home of Scottish Rugby today and then Kilmarnock at the same venue a week tomorrow. Thereafter, Levein is desperate to get his team back to their spiritual home.
“We have two games at Murrayfield – one against Rangers, which is a big game, and then Kilmarnock. I watched them against Rangers on Wednesday night. The Murrayfield experience has been good so far. We did well there against Aberdeen and St Johnstone.
“We need it to be good another two times and then I’m looking forward to getting back to Tynecastle. We have a run of seven games out of eight there. Once we get that out of the way then I’ll have a better idea of what we’re all about.”
Buaben’s hamstring is likely to keep him sidelined for another week at least. Djoum, Cowie and Hughes are all expected to be back by mid-November.
Defender Smith-Brown is being nursed along slowly having managed just one full game for Hearts to date.
“Ashley came out of training three weeks ago to make sure he was absolutely free of all niggles, so he’s been working hard with the sports science people,” explained Levein.
I’m hoping to hear that, maybe come the end of next week, he’s back in training. He’s a wee bit away from it right now.
“He hasn’t been training for the last three weeks because we’re making sure he’s right up to speed with everything before he goes back in. I’m just hopeful he can get through it and get on the field because I think he can help us.”