Hearts manager Craig Levein today revealed he should have the majority of his injured players back in time for Hearts’ return to Tynecastle to face Partick Thistle in front of the new main stand on November 19.
Aaron Hughes, Arnaud Djoum, Prince Buaben and Malaury Martin have all be absent in recent weeks, leaving the Gorgie side light on options, especially in midfield. The situation worsened when Jamie Walker was forced off shortly after half-time with a hamstring injury during last weekend’s 3-1 defeat by Rangers.
Don Cowie’s availability for tomorrow’s encounter with Kilmarnock at BT Murrayfield will ease the burden in the middle of the park, which has fallen on the teenage shoulders of Harry Cochrane and Lewis Moore in recent matches. The upcoming international break affords further respite, and Levein expects to have a full compliment of midfielders fit again by the time domestic action resumes.
This includes Walker, whose injury is not as bad as first feared when an absence of three to four weeks was anticipated.
“I’m hoping to have Aaron, Prince, Arnaud and Jamie Walker, everybody back for the Partick game,” he confirmed. “We’ve definitely got Don back tomorrow, provided he gets through training with no reaction.”
Levein has also discussed a timeline of return with Hughes ahead of a potential appearance for Northern Ireland next week in their 2018 World Cup qualifying play-off against Switzerland.
“I had a chat with Aaron on Thursday night. He has done one day’s training and it wasn’t even a full session. There’s a lot of things going on as you can imagine, we need him for Sunday, he has two huge matches coming up with Northern Ireland.
“The medical advice is he needs seven to ten days full training sessions before he goes back into games, and as much as I want him, the last thing I want is to have him on the pitch on Sunday and then, like he did at Dundee, he leaves the field after seven or eight minutes.
“So I need to have a conversation with Michael [O’Neill], which is easier because Austin [MacPhee] is around. If it’s too soon for us then I think the first game for Northern Ireland would fall into that category as well.
“The second game would be outside it and I would feel comfortable enough to be able to speak to him about that. I would suggest to Aaron if he wasn’t able to play on Sunday then Thursday would be too soon as well. The Sunday would be reasonable and we don’t play for another week, so he could play in that second match for Northern Ireland and he’d be able to play for us against Partick. The conversation was very much about what’s right for him right now, but the benefit of doing it properly will be another 20 matches for us and, if Northern Ireland do get there, there’s a World Cup to think about. We’re on the same page, which is good.”
Of more immediate concern is a return to winning ways tomorrow afternoon against Killie, who come off the back of a 3-0 home defeat by Hibs, in what Levein expects will be Hearts’ last game at Scotland’s national rugby stadium.
“I’m comfortable this will be the last one and we’ll be back at Tynecastle after that,” he said. “The scoreline on Tuesday wasn’t a reflection of the match – Hibs scored at important moments and Kilmarnock missed some good chances.
“If you look at their previous three matches before that, beating Partick then drawing with Rangers and then Celtic, they put on really good professional defensive displays. Added to that they had moments of attacking threat on the counter. They had that on Tuesday as well but just didn’t score despite creating opportunities.”