Hearts preparing for Rangers, Alex Lowry's concussion, Kenneth Vargas dilemma and why Cammy Devlin came off

Hampden awaits but Steven Naismith first faces some important decisions
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After a much-needed Premiership victory over Livingston, Hearts are preparing as normal for Sunday's Viaplay Cup semi-final against Rangers. Rather than alter schedules or plan differently, head coach Steven Naismith is determined to maintain consistent routine ahead of the trip to Hampden.

Kenneth Vargas' late winning goal pushed Hearts up to fourth in the league on Wednesday evening and teed them up to face Rangers for the second time in a week. Last weekend's 2-1 defeat at Ibrox hit the Edinburgh club hard as they conceded goals on 90 and 92 minutes. They recovered against Livingston and are now focused on achieving a cup final place.

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"There is a day off on Thursday and then we come back in and do exactly what we do. I'm a big believer in that," explained Naismith, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. "I've been in changing-rooms at clubs when you get to a semi-final or final and you hear: 'Oh we need to do this or that, go and stay away, do X, Y and Z.'

"My view is: Enjoy it when you win it. Until then, you work the same way you work every day to bring success. That's it. We will recover from Wednesday and do our research. A lot of that will be on last Sunday's game with Rangers and the game with Livingston. What we do in most games in possession, we don't want to change. The group want to learn and get better. They are all at good ages and desperate to progress their own careers."

Sunday will be Naismith's biggest game as a coach thus far, although he won't indulge that fact too much. "The demand for instant success in general in football is probably the biggest difference I've felt. You have a couple of good wins and things are good for a week. If you then have a bad game, it's bad for a week. That's the way it is. I don't really look at each game thinking one is bigger than the other."

He was relieved taking three points against Livingston after an inconsistent run of Hearts form. The hosts dominated the entire game at Tynecastle and would have scored more but for the outstanding form of visiting goalkeeper Jack Hamilton. Livingston camped in their own half for long spells before Vargas scored the game's only goal on 79 minutes.

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"It was an important performance because we are going to come up against that a lot," said Naismith. "That result builds confidence and builds trust that we can continue to do that - keep probing, moving the ball quickly, hemming teams in. I'm really pleased on that point.

"The players have to take credit. When you are out there and there is a wee bit of tension, you look at the clock and it's 15 minutes to go. You are like: 'Is this going to come?' To continue doing things in the same way is hard, so the players deserve praise."

Naismith now faces a slight dilemma regarding Vargas. He told this newspaper earlier in the week that the Costa Rican forward had started more matches than intended due to injuries, and that he needed a chance to effect a game as a substitute. Naismith reckoned Vargas would be more likely to score his first Hearts goal coming on with fresh legs late in a match, which duly transpired against Livingston.

So, does he start against Rangers or remain an impact sub? "Sunday is a different game," smiled Naismith. "There are a few in there we need to think about because I thought Wednesday was a really good performance from everybody. Cammy Devlin was unfortunate to come off [for Jorge Grant at half-time] just because we felt we needed a more forward-thinking player in that position.

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"Cammy's energy, control, tackling and positioning in the middle of the pitch are his biggest attributes. We asked him to do something maybe slightly different to what he is used to, but he is unfortunate to come off. Boycie [Liam Boyce] had some really good moments and link-up play. There will be loads of players desperate to play but Sunday is a different game to Wednesday. We need the same focus as last week at Ibrox, and to have a threat."

Vargas had waited patiently for his first goal in maroon and Naismith was pleased to reap the reward of an injection of energy in Wednesday's second half. "A game in the last 30 minutes is totally different to the first 60. As a game goes on, fatigue happens," he explained. "Knowing Kenneth's strengths and intelligence as a player, his sharpness will get him opportunities and goals.

"Wednesday was exactly what I was talking about. He waits for his moment, makes good runs, all he needs is a good delivery. He gets it from Jorge Grant and he finishes it. He doesn't slash at it at all, it's a controlled finish, and just what he deserves."

Hearts had to use a concussion substitute to withdraw Alex Lowry in the dying moments against Livingston. He suffered a blow to the head in an aerial challenge with the West Lothian side's defender Jamie Brandon and will be assessed over the next few days. Lowry is ineligible for Sunday's semi-final as he is on loan from Rangers and is therefore prohibited from playing against his parent club.

"Yes, he said he got a bang on the head," confirmed Naismith. "The doc said it was a concussion sub. The protocol will depend on how severe the injury is."

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