Craig Levein was due to make a late decision on the fitness of Hearts midfielders Arnaud Djoum and Peter Haring ahead of tonight’s Edinburgh derby at Easter Road.
Both players went off injured in Wednesday’s victory over Hamilton Accies and subsequently became doubtful for the match against Hibs.
Djoum suffered a thigh injury, while Haring aggravated his hernia problem. The key duo spent yesterday morning working with Hearts’ physio team and Levein is “hopeful” that they will be available for the last game before the three-week winter break begins.
“I am hopeful,” said the manager. “They are both going to do something today (Friday) – the physios and sport scientists will be in charge of how much they do and I will speak to them afterwards.
“Peter has had this thing rumbling on since September, so we need to do something about his hernia problem.
“What’s happening is it is causing other problems so it means having to work extra hard to protect it. He has some issues about there. We need to get it fixed. In the meantime he is battering down the anti-inflammatories and playing. But he did aggravate it the other day. It’s a new thing with Arnaud.”
Given the magnitude of the injuries he has had to contend with in defence and attack this season, Levein is eager to see his midfield remain intact.
“Peter’s been great when you consider he came in as a centre-back,” said the manager. “I could count on one hand the games he hasn’t performed at a high level. Arnaud’s obviously an AFCON winner and he’s a good player. He’s had injuries earlier in the season and now he’s getting back to his best. Olly Lee is also coming back to his best, so I feel good about the midfield.
“We’re still struggling a bit in defence and up front but that’ll be solved in January when we get David Vanecek in and Uche (Ikpeazu) back.”
Hearts head across the city looking to buck a recent trend which has generally seen the away side toil in Edinburgh derbies. Hibs haven’t won at Tynecastle since Ross Caldwell secured a 2-1 triumph in May 2013, while Hearts haven’t won at Easter Road since Callum Paterson scored a double in a 2-1 victory in April 2014.
“Generally they’re really tight games,” said Levein. “We had a long spell of dominance but that’s gone for the moment. As much as we would like to recreate that, we have to work really hard to get ourselves in a position to win at Easter Road. We’ll be doing our best.”
Levein admits there is every chance tonight’s match will descend into a typically scrappy Edinburgh derby.
“When both teams are fighting for ascendancy, with everyone at their maximum, that can happen,” he said. “The first thing is, a lot of the time, they don’t want to make mistakes, so the ball doesn’t remain in your own half for very long. Sometimes you would maybe play three or four passes to get a switch of play or something – but in this game the ball goes forward quicker, so it becomes a game where possession is changing hands constantly, rather than any tactics. And the fitter the players are, the longer that lasts.
“It used to be you would get an hour into the game and it would settle down but the last game at Tynecastle, I don’t think it settled down at all, over the full 90 minutes.”
Levein is buoyed by the belief that the team are now on the road to recovery following the return to action of talisman Steven Naismith.
“Slowly but surely,” said the manager. “I think once we get this game out the way, the last one of the year ... I have spoken about Naisy a lot, and he helps us a lot – anyone who has seen the last couple of games can see that he helps us. We will need him again at Easter Road to be a talisman and someone who can score and help create goals.
“The good thing about my relationship with Steven is that I can put that pressure on him and know it won’t faze him. It is not easy sometimes to hold somebody up as the main character but with him, we have spoken about it at length, he just does what he does. It’s in him.”
Levein is unlikely to be taking 20-year-old former Celtic defender Ciaran McKenna on trial as he may need to concentrate on recruiting a more experienced centre-back if he is unable to extend Jimmy Dunne’s loan from Burnley beyond January.
“We spoke about (McKenna) but we need an experienced centre-back,” said the manager. “I’m not sure we’re going to get Jimmy back and I need another centre-back. At one point I was going to have a look (at McKenna) but I thought I can’t afford to bring in a young one when I might need somebody to play almost immediately after the winter break. I think it’s more important that we bring in a more experienced player.
“Jimmy’s got his injury, he’s back down the road, there’s that distance, and sometimes that makes you feel something won’t happen. I’m preparing for him maybe not being here, but if he’s here I’ll be delighted.”