Craig Levein to be 'ultra cautious' with Hearts' Steven Naismith after bringing him back too soon
Craig Levein explained that he will be “ultra-cautious” with Steven Naismith after admitting that over-eagerness to get him back in the Hearts team earlier in the season had set the talismanic attacker back.
The 33-year-old has played only 78 minutes of football since sustaining a knee injury in February after an attempt to return to action in August, when he made two substitute appearances and one start, was aborted following further muscle injuries.
Naismith subsequently joined up with the Scotland squad for the double-header against Russia and Belgium last month but wasn’t deemed fit enough to play any part. Levein admitted that the player, who is one cap away from joining the national team’s hall of fame, shouldn’t have gone on international duty given his lack of game time at club level.
The manager will now wait until Naismith proves he is robust enough before restoring him to the Hearts team, although he insisted “he is not far away from being involved.”
“I’m just being very cautious with Steven,” he said. “I did bring him back maybe a little bit sooner than was needed. It is a constant fight when you are sitting looking at players in the stand who could have a big impact on the performance on the field. There is a temptation to try and hurry that process up.
“I’m beyond that now. I have kind of pushed that to the back of my mind. He had muscle injuries when he came back before. Then he went right into the Scotland stuff. He is sitting one cap away from 50 matches for Scotland and getting into the hall of fame. There was a rush to get that back. To be fair, I should probably have taken him out of that environment and just kept a hold of him. But he is sitting one cap away… I think we’ve jumped to get him back - one, for me to get him back in the team and, two, for his eagerness to play for Scotland. So now I’m just being ultra-cautious with him.”
With so little action over the past eight months, and having missed pre-season, Levein explained that Naismith had become “deconditioned” and increasingly susceptible to muscle injuries.
“He hasn’t played a 90 minutes since February so essentially there is the problem - he didn’t do pre-season,” said the manager. “His body is deconditioned a little bit. That means there is this gradual process to get him back up to full fitness.
“He had a problem with his hamstring and he felt his calf a wee bit tight. It’s just symptomatic of doing more work day-on-day. So I think we have just come back off it a little bit to give his muscles time to recover between sessions.”
Naismith won’t be involved against Rangers at Tynecastle on Sunday but Levein confirmed that Peter Haring and Uche Ikpeazu are both still on track to return for the showdown with the rampant league leaders.