Bobby Burns, Jamie Brandon and Jake Mulraney are the three contenders for Hearts’ vacant left-back slot following injury to Ben Garuccio.
The Australian will miss ten months of football after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in training on Wednesday.
With on-loan Manchester United left-back Demetri Mitchell already sidelined until next season because of knee trouble, the Hearts manager Craig Levein is again seeking a deputy ahead of tomorrow’s Premiership match against Aberdeen.
Northern Ireland Under-21 internationalist Burns is the favourite, with Scotland Under-21 defender Brandon also an option. Mulraney is traditionally a winger but has filled in at left-back recently for Hearts. “There’s Bobby Burns, Jake Mulraney, and Jamie Brandon is also a possibility. I haven’t made my mind up. Marcus Godinho is just back in training and I’m hopeful he will be available,” said Levein.
Recent signing Aidy White is an experienced left-back but is not quite fit enough for a Hearts debut. “He will take a little bit of time to get ready,” added the manager. The versatile Michael Smith is still recovering from a torn thigh muscle and is aiming to return in time for next month’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Inverness.
Teenage left-back Aaron Hickey has been on the substitutes’ bench for Hearts on several occasions this season without taking to the field. At 17, he is unlikely to be thrown into a crucial league game against Aberdeen at Tynecastle Park.
Garuccio twisted his knee in training and could be sent back to Australia for treatment to give him the benefit of family support. “I was hoping it wasn’t going to be serious. There was nobody near him. He just twisted,” explained Levein.
“Having experienced it myself, you just need to be in the wrong position and shift your weight. I feel really sorry for the boy. He had just got himself back in the team and was in a good place. When I found out, I was feeling a wee bit gutted for him, to be honest.
“He is quite a sensitive boy and he was happy that he had got back in the team and things were going well. The difficulty is that he is over here on his own and his family are back in Australia. We might end up getting him operated on over there so that he can spend the the first three months at home before he tries to get back walking without his crutches.”
Long-term injuries have become something of a theme throughout the season, much to Hearts’ frustration. Garuccio’s disappointment follows that of Mitchell, Christophe Berra, John Souttar, Uche Ikpeazu and Steven Naismith.
“Ninety per cent of the previous ones were contact injuries.
“They haven’t been something like this, a catastrophic kind of injury,” said Levein. “I had a long chat with Ben about ‘what ifs’ and about staying positive. It’s so demoralising.
“When you start looking at it, ten months is a hell of a long time. Everybody struggles to deal with it. It’s the length of time. When you’re a young footballer, a year is a lifetime.
“It’s getting it into perspective and trying to look at the next milestone. Getting the op is the next one. Then he is getting rid of his crutches. Then he is getting back jogging. So you’re looking at it in little chunks rather than thinking ‘oh no, I’m out for a year’.”