Following the news Ben Garuccio is set to miss ten months of action due to ligament damage, Joel Sked assesses the options available to Craig Levein.
Left-back. A poisoned chalice at Tynecastle. Not since Lee Wallace have Hearts had a consistent performer in the position.
The re-signing of Demetri Mitchell on loan from Manchester United in the summer, plus the addition of Ben Garuccio suggested it wouldn’t be an issue this campaign. Unfortunately for Craig Levein that has not quite been the case.
Mitchell struggled to reach the heights of last season before injury ended his season, while the Australian has been in and out the team prior to suffering ligament damage in training.
So, who fills the void for the rest of the season?
It is been an unusual season for the 19-year-old. A summer signing from Northern Ireland outfit Glenavon, he was expected to be one for the future who’d potentially push for a first-team spot. Burns featured early in the campaign before it was felt he would benefit going out on loan.
He gathered some useful experience at Livingston, earning his first international call-up, before being recalled in January. When Hearts faced Celtic in February, Burns came into contention for the spot due to a lack of options. However, he has still to even make the bench since returning.
He is one option who has good experience of playing as a left-back and is naturally left-footed. While technically sound and a good user of the ball, there may be a concern that he is too flat-footed or a bit too slow for the position.
It was the 21-year-old who was given the nod to play at left-back against Celtic. It didn’t end well, Brandon receiving his marching orders before half time with a reckless aerial challenge.
He would be a far from ideal solution considering he is naturally a right-back, but he has played a number of games on the opposite side across the past two seasons. That being said he has now been red carded on two occasions when playing on the left.
Brandon can’t be faulted for effort and tenacity but it can sometimes get the better of him, over-committing and diving in to challenges. It is only exacerbated when playing on the wrong side. In addition, the player is still getting back up to speed after missing much of the season with cruciate ligament damage.
If Craig Levein switches to a back three it would allow him to play wing-backs, including Jake Mulraney on the left.
That has previously been used with Christophe Berra showing his unease at being exposed on the left-hand side of the defence. Even more so with Mulraney, whose natural instinct is to go forward, in front of him.
Mulraney is a winger and has spoken of his struggles early on in his Hearts career. It would ask a lot of him to develop as a left-back during the business end of the season.
The answer may lie with the Australian midfielder. Like Bobby Burns, he is a technically proficient operator who rarely wastes possession. Sometimes when fielded in the centre of midfield that can be to the detriment of the team as he plays a safe pass rather than something a bit more proactive.
Yet, he could provide a safe option between now and the end of the season. Bozanic offers plenty of aggression and experience, plus it’s unlikely he would be bombing up and down the flank. Sitting deeper, he offers Chrsitophe Berra greater protection.
“He’ll need a bit of time. He’s been out for quite a while so a lot of things need to go right for him to get back to the level he was at,” said Hearts boss Craig Levein about new signing Aidy White.
Those comments raised eyebrows considering the club’s recent spate of injury issues. The last thing supporters wanted was a player who had a history of injury problems.
White will very much be a last resort as Levein will be reluctant to play him before he is ready but it could come to that.
Not 17 years of age until June, the teenager has made the first-team bench on a number of occasions. Naturally a central midfielder, he has played at full-back for both the U18 and reserves teams.
“He is comfortable on the ball and gets about the midfield area really well,” according to the official Hearts website. “He has a decent range of passing and is almost ambidextrous with his feet.”
However, it would perhaps be unfair to throw such a young player into such a situation.
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