Arnaud Djoum is adamant Hearts can cope with their injury crisis by beating Hibs and continuing their run atop the Ladbrokes Premiership table.
Steven Naismith is the latest key player forced into the Riccarton treatment room following Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final defeat by Celtic at BT Murrayfield.
He joins the club’s first-choice central defensive pairing of Christophe Berra and John Souttar, plus striker Uche Ikpeazu, on the sidelines. An exact diagnosis for Naismith’s knee injury is awaited to determine how long he will be out.
Djoum is himself not long back from six months out with a snapped Achilles and is once again a regular in the Hearts midfield. Although disappointed and frustrated by the absence of some influential colleagues, the Cameroonian is convinced Hearts can prevail in the Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle Park tomorrow night without those missing.
“The injuries are crazy,” he admitted. “At the start of the game on Sunday, you lose Naisy so quick. He is really important for us, plus you have the defenders and everyone else who is injured. It is not easy but we need to keep going with the other boys who are ready to step up.
“Yes, we can cope. I think if you look at the bench we have some players with quality as well. We are playing at home with the fans behind us, so I’m sure we can win the game against Hibs.”
Naismith will be every bit as conspicuous an absentee as Berra, Souttar or Ikpeazu. He is the Premiership’s top goalscorer and a huge influence in and around the Hearts dressing room as a player with English Premier League and international experience.
Djoum explained the attributes the forward has which can help guide other players through a game but insisted the void simply means an opportunity for someone else to step into the Hearts first team.
“You miss Naisy, for sure. You miss his voice and the way he plays, his aggression and pressing all the time,” said Djoum.
“He is a big player and a big influence for us. Don’t forget his attitude as well. When he does something, the team follows. He is a big miss but now we need to try with the other boys to keep going and try to replace him.”
Only eight minutes had lapsed against Celtic when Naismith departed to be replaced by the Danish winger Danny Amankwaa. He looked disconsolate trudging towards the Hearts technical area, but those who remained on the pitch simply had to refocus on the task at hand and not become distracted.
“We didn’t really lose belief,” said Djoum. “When that happened, in the moment you just think to continue the game and try to win. We followed the instructions from the gaffer but in the back of your head you know Naisy is quite important for us. It’s always like a knockout when he goes off.”
It took Celtic until the second half to properly unravel Hearts’ gameplan, but once they scored there only looked like being one winner. Scott Sinclair broke the deadlock from the penalty spot and then James Forrest capitalised on Zdenek Zlamal’s error. Ryan Christie completed the scoring with a 20-yard shot high into Zlamal’s net.
It led to anti-climactic feelings for the Hearts squad at the end of such a big day.
“The mood wasn’t really good. It was a difficult game for us and not the result we expected, so we were quite disappointed,” said Djoum.