Craig Levein's Tynecastle return brings a quirk of fate as Hearts glean an insight into St Johnstone

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Former manager heads back to Gorgie years after his last management stint there

Four years since Craig Levein last sat in a Tynecastle dugout, his return is merely days away. St Johnstone's visit to Gorgie on Saturday will see Levein loiter on a touchline he last prowled on 20 October, 2019. An intriguing quirk of fate pits him up against one of his former players now in charge of Hearts.

Steven Naismith was initially a loan signing from Norwich City by then-Hearts manager Levein in January 2018. The Scotland forward moved permanently to Edinburgh in summer 2019 but was injured three games into the season. By the time he regained fitness, Levein had been sacked with Hearts bottom of the Premiership.

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The intervening period has seen Naismith call time on his own playing career and begin coaching the club's B team before a promotion to head coach earlier this year. Levein spent two years in the Highland League as a consultant at Brechin City, where Andy Kirk became manager after the pair worked together at Tynecastle.

They were lured to St Johnstone earlier this month as manager and assistant respectively following the dismissal of another man signed by Levein at Hearts, Steven MacLean. Now comes their biggest test so far. BBC Radio Scotland duties have taken Levein back to the ground where he played and managed for the majority of his football career, but this will be the first time he has managed at Tynecastle since leaving Hearts.

Naismith is looking forward to the reunion. It is likely he would not be enjoying a maiden managerial role at a club of Hearts' stature had Levein not picked up the phone almost six years ago. "It played a part because I had a relationship with him before. I obviously worked with him in the Scotland set-up. Unless he gives me a call, I'm not sure I know Hearts are ever interested or that deal can be done," explained Naismith to the Edinburgh News.

"When you have someone like him asking you to come back to Scotland, you know from working with him what the environment is going to be like, what his tactics are going to be like and what the expectation is going to be. He played a big part in that move to Hearts for me at the time. Looking back now, it was a good one because I'm still at the club nearly six years later. I'm in a privileged position so it was a good decision."

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St Johnstone drew 2-2 with Motherwell after squandering a two-goal lead in Levein's first game in charge. They then beat Ross County 1-0 in their last match before the international break. "It's great to see him back in management," said Naismith of Levein. "He is somebody who has a presence and an understanding, not just of how to coach and tactical awareness, but to man-manage as well. I can understand why St Johnstone made the decision to put him in charge.

"For us, Saturday is just about continuing on from before the international break. The last two league games [against Livingston and Motherwell] have been good performances and good results, so we have to take that on and continue in that vein. The word I've used the most recently is 'consistency'. We need to get that consistency of performance - defending and attacking - plus consistency of results. This is another good opportunity, especially being at home."

The history of the Naismith-Levein relationship means the current Hearts manager is better placed than most to second-guess St Johnstone's plans for Saturday. Any insight into what Levein's gameplan will be kept internal, as one would expect. Naismith knows the subtext to this fixture is very much 'manager looking to school his old pupil'.

"I've worked with the two of them because Kirky was a coach here when I was playing and I was involved in a lot of his sessions," said Naismith. "In terms of tactics, I'm not so sure. I do understand Craig will have a team that is ready to fight and I think you have seen that from St Johnstone's two games since he took over.

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"He has a good way of instilling confidence and belief within a squad. In the short time he has been at St Johnstone, you can see that has happened. One thing for sure is that it will be a tough game. Craig will want to come back to Tynecastle and get a result."

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