Craig Levein stressed today he has no intention of selling Hearts’ top goalscorer Kyle Lafferty without signing a replacement first.
The Tynecastle manager is scouring the free-agent market for a forward after deciding not to pursue any options before the transfer window closed.
Lafferty, with 12 goals in 26 games for Hearts, was the subject of several enquiries by foreign clubs before the Scottish deadline on Wednesday night.
He continues to attract interest in countries where the window remains open – deadlines in China, Russia, Croatia, India and South Korea are a few weeks away – and Hearts are conscious that a tempting offer could still arrive. Levein is determined not to be left short, with Lafferty and Steven Naismith the only experienced strikers in his squad just now. Having decided not to move for Dundee’s Marcus Haber, he will try to recruit a new forward over the next week or so.
“We might be able to get somebody in over the next two or three days. This second market now opens of players who are free after the window closes. Very quickly, the best ones get snapped up. That then leaves the others,” he told the Evening News. “I’d rather be really sure about who I’m bringing in. If I’m not sure, I’m not bringing anybody in. I don’t want to bring another body in and feel I need to give them game time.
“I couldn’t let Kyle go without a replacement. We had loads of interest in him last month but nobody actually went: there you go [with an offer]. I was worried someone might come in with a ridiculous offer that we might have had to make a decision on, but thankfully that didn’t happen. Once the striker thing fell through I decided that was that. And, if I put my phone off I knew nobody could come in for Kyle.”
Hearts did complete the signing of the Angolan international midfielder Joaquim Adao on loan from FC Sion before the deadline. The 25-year-old has loosely been compared to former Tynecastle favourite Julien Brellier – who also played at Sion – but Levein feels he has some different attributes.
“I think Joaquim’s style of play will suit the game here and I think he will feel good because of that,” continued the manager. “He is more mobile than Brellier, not as big, but it’s hard to compare him to anyone. He does the things we want so it will allow us to get Arnaud Djoum and Harry Cochrane further up the field. Joaquim played with Kyle as well [at Sion] so I’m glad he is still here.”
Lafferty and Naismith have yet to play together for Hearts after forming a partnership up front for Rangers several years ago. They could be paired together tomorrow against St Johnstone. “Having that connection is obviously something that we should be able to take advantage of. Getting players who have played together and know each other is good,” remarked Levein.
One player who will miss tomorrow’s game is Harry Cochrane. The 16-year-old suffered a neck injury in a challenge with Scott Brown during Celtic’s 3-1 win over Hearts on Tuesday night.
“He’s alright. I have watched the video. Scott targeted him from the beginning of the match, but he’s a tough boy,” said Levein, who felt Brown wanted payback following Hearts’ 4-0 win against Celtic in December.
“That’s exactly what it was, but that’s the game. The good thing is Harry says he’s going to sort him the next time. I said to him: ‘Go on son!’” laughed Levein.
“He’ll be out for a wee while. He has damaged his collarbone although it’s not broken. He has sprained it and he had neck spasms. We were were really worried, actually.
“The doctor had the spinal board on him and his neck had gone into spasms in the dressing-room. So we were really worried, but thankfully he is okay.”
When asked yesterday whether Cochrane should get more protection from referees, Levein had replied: “I think everyone needs a little bit more protection from Scott Brown.”
Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers then launched a robust defence of Brown – and even questioned Levein’s call to play Cochrane against Celtic.
Rodgers said: “There was nothing in the tackle, they competed in the air. The young guy was unfortunate with Scott’s power and strength, young boy clearly falls awkward and he was in pain coming off. You could argue, should a 16-year-old be put into a game of that magnitude against the best team in Scotland, into a game of that level of intensity? The young player showed he could handle it in the game at Tynecastle. But I don’t think there is anything against Scott Brown on it. If you actually look at the game, the foul count was towards Hearts, 21 against our nine.”
Hearts’ only other doubt for tomorrow’s game surrounds midfielder Don Cowie, who has a tight hamstring.