Jamie Walker set for the Hearts bench at St Johnstone
Craig Levein is looking forward to welcoming the creativity of Jamie Walker back from injury tonight as he seeks the spark that he feels will allow Hearts to start “motoring up the table”.
The attacking midfielder is set to start on the subs’ bench for this evening’s bottom-of-the-table clash with St Johnstone after recovering from the broken leg he sustained in the Betfred Cup win away to Motherwell two and a half months ago
Hearts have shored things up defensively over the past month, conceding only three goals in their last five league games. However, their quest to move away from the relegation zone has been undermined by the fact they have failed to score in three of their last four league matches.
Levein is hopeful that the addition of Walker will remedy this situation, with talisman Steven Naismith also on course to return to the squad for Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final clash with Rangers as Hearts’ injury crisis starts to ease.
“One of our biggest problems has been our creativity but Jamie Walker will be on the bench against St Johnstone,” Levein said. “He is a proven 10-goal-plus striker or midfielder in the Premiership and Naisy trained with us from Monday and again he is a 15-20 goals striker, so when I see these players coming back and see Uche getting back up to full speed, then scoring goals should become slightly easier.
“There is no secrets about playing for Hearts for Jamie Walker. He knows everything. He knows that pressure comes with the job, basically. But, in the wider sense, I feel we have got over the worst of it. Jake (Mulraney) is better than we thought so maybe he won’t be out for the period of time we thought he would and we have Aidy White back. Glenn Whelan had a problem with his hamstring but he’s alright, Loic Damour had a problem with his hamstring but he is fine so we already have a bigger group and more quality to choose from.”
Although excited by the return of some of his key men, Levein is mindful of the need not to demand too much too soon from his key men and is reluctant to place too much expectation on the likes of Walker and Naismith ahead of Sunday’s Hampden showdown with Rangers.
“I don’t think too much about Sunday at this minute,” said Levein. “For them to be any use to us on Sunday, they need to get through training this week. Jamie will be on the bench against St Johnstone, and if a situation arises for me to get him some game time, great. But I don’t think by Sunday he will be 100 per cent. That’s the thing, it’s ok getting everyone back but when you remember them, you remember them at their best and there has to be a bit of leeway to allow everyone time to get back up to full speed. But I do feel much better when I see them back training with us. It definitely lifts the levels.”
Hearts are one point off the bottom of the table, but Levein is confident they will soon start climbing the league. He is aware that Saints, who are currently in last place, will be of a similar mindset ahead of this evening’s match.
“I’ve been watching a lot of their games and they’ve actually been playing ok,” said the manager. “Apart from their games against Rangers and Celtic, the rest of them have been fairly tight. Looking at the league overall, I think there’s been a levelling off this year. It seems that all the teams outside the Old Firm are much more condensed.
“Tommy Wright will be saying ‘two or three wins and we’re in the top half’. Even though we’ve had a torrid start to the season, we’re still only nine points behind where would be an acceptable situation for us (third place). That’s not a lot if we can get motoring, and I’m sure Tommy will be thinking the same.”
Hearts haven’t won a league game at McDiarmid Park since Jim Jefferies was in charge in 2010, but they are buoyed by a strong recent record against Saints overall.
“We’re unbeaten in seven against St Johnstone,” he pointed out.
“It’s always a difficult place to play and I’m sure they’ll take some comfort from beating Hamilton at the weekend and feel better about themselves.
“I’ll expect what I usually get up at Perth, which is a tough time.”