Kyle Lafferty is doubtful for Hearts’ Betfred League Cup tie against Cowdenbeath tonight with a back injury.
The club’s top goalscorer last season was substituted against Raith Rovers on Saturday and the problem is still causing concern.
Hearts realistically need to beat Cowdenbeath and Inverness Caledonian Thistle in their final two Group C games to progress. The Scottish Professional Football League have deducted two points from their total and fined them £10,000 (£8,000 of which is suspended) for fielding an ineligible player against Cove Rangers last week. That leaves them on three points.
Manager Craig Levein is therefore hoping Lafferty, inset, is available but it will be a late decision. “Lafferty came off the other day and I’m still waiting for him,” said Levein. “He did a little bit of training yesterday morning but didn’t quite feel 100 per cent. He got a knee in his back. It’s causing a fair bit of discomfort.”
Levein insisted Hearts’ last two group games always were of the must-win variety, but even more so after they were docked two points for using the unregistered substitute Andy Irving against Cove.
“To guarantee getting through you really need to get 12 points, certainly if you want to get through and get seeded. We can’t do that now,” said Levein.
“I put Andy on the pitch as a young boy just to get some experience. We were winning 2-0 when he went on and we ended up winning 2-1 so we got no competitive advantage from it whatsoever.”
The manager addressed the Hearts squad last Thursday as news broke of the registration rule breach.
“I spoke to the players last week when we found out about it and just explained the situation. We would get some sort of penalty but I couldn’t really say what that would be,” he explained.
Levein added that he is a fan of the revamped League Cup and the group format as he assesses all 13 of his summer signings. “I do like it but with so many changes within the group, and to be tested so early, is more difficult. I am still finding out about players, what they can do and who can gel with who. At the same time, we are trying to get everybody up to full speed. It is what it is.”