Hearts expect to be without captain Christophe Berra for several games due to a hamstring injury sustained in Saturday’s 1-0 win against Celtic.
The 33-year-old was stretchered off near the end of the first half after falling inside his own penalty area. His leg was placed in a brace and he was given crutches as a precaution.
Medical staff at Riccarton are assessing the extent of the damage, but Berra is at least likely to miss forthcoming games against Dunfermline in the Betfred Cup and Kilmarnock in the league.
“It’s a worry. It’s a hamstring injury and it doesn’t look great. That’s a concern for me,” admitted manager Craig Levein. “It’s a big loss because we don’t have an awful lot of cover in there.
“Peter Haring was one who would play in there but he is playing so well in midfield that it would be difficult to take him out of there and put him in the back line. I don’t know what I’m going to do for this week.”
Levein praised John Souttar for assuming the captaincy in the second half against Celtic - a game won by Kyle Lafferty’s superb left-footed strike.
“What was significant was that John took the armband at half-time and led the team just like Christophe does,” remarked Levein. “He led by example, winning headers and competing for absolutely everything that came up. He is just getting better and better.”
Aaron Hughes came on as a substitute for Berra and could find himself deputising for the Scotland defender at East End Park on Saturday.
Beating Celtic keeps Hearts top of the Ladbrokes Premiership with two wins from two games. Lafferty’s future remains uncertain after the Edinburgh club rejected an offer worth £200,000 from Rangers two weeks ago.
The striker intends to leave the two clubs to negotiate. “Getting teams like Rangers interested in you, it’s something you have to look at and you know you’re doing something right. It’s up to the two clubs,” said Lafferty.
“I owe Hearts the respect to continue giving 110 per cent. If something happens, it happens. It’s out of my hands. I’m just working hard, playing games, getting results and enjoying football. I’m leaving it up to the two clubs.
“If they agree something, they agree something. If not, I’ll continue working hard. It’s not going to change my attitude. When you hear teams like Rangers are interested in you, you in tend to give that little bit extra to show them: ‘I can play and I can score goals.’
“The relationship I have with the [Hearts] fans is very good. They’ve taken to me and I’ve taken to them like a duck to water. All I’m doing right now is focusing on giving 110 per cent in training and if I’m picked, give 110 per cent in the games. We’ll see where it takes me. I think I owe the club to keep giving 110 per cent.”
Asked about his goal, the player replied: “I think I’ll have it on repeat at home. I was going to take a touch with my left and hit it with my right. When I approached it, I didn’t have to break my strike and I hit it first-time. Thankfully, it crept in at the post.
“I said in the dressing room that was the Hearts team I played against eight or nine years ago. I absolutely hated coming here. We have to play like that in every game if we want to do something this year.”
Hearts officials are also waiting to learn if Steven Naismith will be retrospectively punished for an incident with Celtic’s Jonny Hayes.
The Scottish Football Association’s compliance officer could be called into action after television pictures showed Naismith appearing to kick out at Hayes after a tackle from the winger late in the first half.
Meanwhile, Hearts midfielder Don Cowie is to rejoin formative club Ross County on a three-year contract.
The 35-year-old watched the Championship club beat Dunfermline 3-1 at East End Park on Saturday after agreeing terms for a return to the Highlands.
He will take on a coaching role within Ross County’s youth academy and use his experience in the first team to influence their bid for promotion back to the Premiership.