Hearts are unlikely to risk Steven Naismith or John Souttar by rushing them back from injury to face Celtic. Both players are close to a return, but manager Craig Levein is preparing for Sunday’s Premiership match without them.
Naismith tweaked a hamstring against Ross County two weeks ago, while Souttar injured his ankle the previous week at Aberdeen. They have both begun light training but coaching staff are reluctant to propel them into a demanding fixture at Parkhead.
“They are both close. I’m sure Naisy will be okay for Hamilton but this game on Sunday is about running,” explained Levein. “We are going to have to run in this match so the last thing I want to do is jeopardise Naisy when I know he will need to do more running. With a hamstring, I can’t take that chance.
“John is improving all the time. He has a little bit of bone bruising, which is causing slight pain. That has meant he hasn’t been outside yet. It’s getting tight for this weekend so I would say it’s looking unlikely for them.”
Recent signing Glenn Whelan will make his debut in Glasgow. The 35-year-old midfielder was an unused substitute in last Friday’s Betfred Cup win at Motherwell, however his experience could be vital this week. “He’ll be involved on Sunday, I don’t know if he’ll start or come off the bench but he’ll be involved,” said Levein.
“We have a gameplan. The two games with Celtic at the end of last season were helpful and we will look at the footage from them. Celtic have good players and have won their first two league games 7-0 and 5-2. That tells you a story.
“Going out of the Champions League is a blow for them because that is something they aspire to every year. However, they are still in Europe. I know they scraped by against Dunfermline last weekend but they were camped in the opposition half. They still got the result.
“I don’t expect any drop-off in performance from Celtic. I can’t afford to. If we don’t play to our best, then we don’t have a chance of winning.”