Specialist's report gives Hearts timescale for Michael Smith's return as Robbie Neilson explains the injury problems at Riccarton

Hearts defender Michael Smith has been told to rest for around a month in an attempt to cure an ongoing back problem.

A specialist’s report on the injury decreed that surgery is not necessary at this point, but Smith must avoid training and playing for three to four weeks. Hearts hope he will resume training by the middle of April and potentially be ready for action again before the season finishes.

The Northern Irish defender has managed only one appearance since the end of January. “He needs to rest for a few weeks and then get reassessed. Hopefully it will settle down,” Hearts manager Robbie Neilson told the Evening News.

“The specialist initially wondered about an operation but he thinks it’s just a period of rest needed. Michael will get three to four weeks rest and then we will build him back up again. The hope is to have him back before the end of the season – potentially around the end of April or early May.”

Hearts defender Michael Smith is still out injured.

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Neilson confirmed that he will be without defender Alex Cochrane and winger Gary Mackay-Steven for Saturday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final against St Mirren. Cochrane must follow concussion protocol after a head knock and Mackay-Steven is nursing a broken hand.

Those were two of six injuries sustained during last week’s 2-2 draw at Dundee United. Defender John Souttar (ankle) and midfielder Cammy Devlin (hamstring) are doubtful, but full-back Nathaniel Atkinson and winger Josh Ginnelly should be available.

“We are probably without Cochrane and Mackay-Steven is out as well. He is seeing a specialist about his broken hand,” explained Neilson.

“Ginnelly should be fine, Beni Baningime should be fine as he was carrying a wee problem. Peter Haring should be fine, he did have a small niggle as well. Atkinson is fine, he has been training.

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“John has come on quite a bit. We need to see how he is over the next couple of days. We think he has just been kicked on the ankle, we don’t think it’s an extensive thing. We will let it settle down and see how it goes.

“Devlin has a hamstring problem. He will be assessed on Friday and I would be surprised if we have him. He is walking about fine but isn’t training so it will be a late decision on him.”

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