Hearts’ forward line will strengthen in three to four weeks’ time when Steven Naismith returns from injury.
The on-loan Norwich City striker is recovering from knee surgery and manager Craig Levein reported today that he should be back playing around the middle of next month.
Naismith suffered a slight tear to his knee cartilage just eight minutes into last month’s Betfred Cup semi-final against Celtic. That robbed Hearts of the Ladbrokes Premiership’s top goalscorer, who has scored 11 times in 18 club appearances this season. They haven’t managed a goal since Naismith trudged off the pitch at BT Murrayfield, so his return would be considered a major boost.
The 32-year-old could potentially make a comeback against Motherwell at Tynecastle Park on Saturday, December 8, or away to Livingston on Friday, December 14. Much depends on his ongoing rehabiliation continuing smoothly. Hearts will not rush him back into action despite his importance to the cause.
As revealed in Saturday’s Evening News, captain Christophe Berra is back in training after a torn hamstring and is targeting a reappearance against Rangers early next month. Naismith will be a week or two later.
“The injuries are coming on but nobody is making major leaps or bounds,” explained Levein.
“Christophe has made good progress, we’re still expecting John Souttar and Uche Ikpeazu to be back after the winter break. Steven will be another three or four weeks. Again with him, we will just take it easy and make sure he’s right.”
In the meantime, Levein is considering changing Hearts’ formation to create more of a goalscoring threat. They lost 3-0 to Celtic in the aforementioned semi-final and have since drawn 0-0 at home to Hibs, lost 5-0 away to Celtic and suffered a 1-0 home defeat by Kilmarnock.
Naismith’s absence has hit them hard but the manager has a plan to remedy the situation. He hopes to execute it this weekend when Hearts visit St Mirren in the league.
“It’s important for us to get back winning. We need to find a system that helps us win,” he said. “I take the Celtic games out of things and look at the matches against Hibs and Kilmarnock.
“Although I feel we were the better team in both games, we didn’t create enough chances. I need to have a look at that for the next match.
“I haven’t been unhappy with anybody, I just think we need to do better. That maybe means changing the team a little bit, although not so much in terms of personnel. There may be one or two personnel changes, but I think we need to look at a different shape to enable us to create more opportunities.
“I’m obviously not going to get anybody else back from injury for the next two or three matches. Steven will be the first striker to come back, probably in three or four weeks as I said. I have to concern myself with the next two or three matches more than anything else.”
Levein will work on his new system later this week once all of Hearts’ international players gather back together at Riccarton. Encouragingly, the Edinburgh club remain joint top of the Premiership alongside Celtic. The champions have a game in hand over Levein’s side, however, as do Rangers sitting just two points behind.
Hearts’ next three games are against St Mirren away, Rangers at Tynecastle and St Johnstone away. Levein intends to ensure they stay in the hunt at the top.
“I can’t really work on many tactical changes during the international break because not everybody is here. We have been ticking over, doing some fitness stuff and then we will start working on tactics when everyone is back on Thursday.”