Stats show how badly Hearts miss Craig Halkett as defender pushes to return for Europe
Don’t underestimate Craig Halkett’s value to Hearts. Once again, the defender’s absence is being keenly felt by his employers since he hobbled out of St Gallen’s Kybunpark on crutches nearly three weeks ago.
Hearts have won just one of six matches from the moment Halkett fell with a hamstring injury just seven minutes into that Europa League play-off first leg in Switzerland. Saturday’s insipid 1-0 loss at his former club Livingston was the latest defeat.
With John Souttar gone to Rangers and Stephen Kingsley nursing injuries of his own, Halkett’s influence at centre-back is evermore vital. It must be hoped he is sufficiently fit for Thursday’s opening Europa Conference League tie against Istanbul Basaksehir at Tynecastle Park.
The situation is not new, of course. An ankle injury in April’s Scottish Cup semi-final victory against Hibs sidelined the imposing defender until the week of the final. Hearts won only one of the following five games in which he didn’t start.
Christian Montano’s first-half goal settled the weekend’s meeting in West Lothian as Livingston earned a deserved victory. Hearts looked jaded after seven matches in three weeks, but more alarmingly they looked disjointed in defence too often.
“Halkett was touch and go for today,” explained Robbie Neilson. “The original injury is okay, he just had a wee spasm. He should be back for Thursday and will be a big positive.” A slight understatement there from the Hearts manager.
Hearts clearly need Halkett to anchor and solidify their defence. The prospect of Mesut Ozil, Nacer Chadli, Danijel Aleksic and the rest of Istanbul’s dangermen romping around Tynecastle without him as a deterrent doesn’t bear thinking about.
“That’s not good enough when playing for Hearts. Simple as that. We know that,” admitted midfielder Cammy Devlin after Saturday. “We’ve got to bounce back quickly on Thursday. It’ll be tough opposition. The good thing about the situation we’re in at the moment is there are games thick and fast.”
The relentless fixture list could be part of the problem and might be exacerbating injuries, but Hearts must adapt quickly. “We’re all super excited about being in Europe,” added Devlin.
“The league is where we earned the right to be in Europe and that should be our bread and butter – to come to places like Livingston and win. That’s what you have a whole squad for.
“Last year it was a similar team week in, week out. This year, because we have so many games, everyone is going to be needed. Everyone needs to step up.
“It’s difficult because you’re not used to it. I’ve never done it before, but I’m a player and I want to play games as much as I can. Every player wants to play games rather than training.
“We get to do it twice a week at the moment. We are loving playing games, we just need to be better in them. Chopping and changing the team could be used as an excuse but it’s not an issue.”
Livingston (4-2-3-1): George; Devlin, Obileye, Sean Kelly, Montano (Longridge 83); Holt, Pittman; Omeonga (Stephen Kelly 81), Goncalves (Bahamboula 56), Penrice (Guthrie 56); Nouble.
Hearts (4-2-3-1): Gordon; Sibbick, Neilson, Kingsley, Cochrane; Devlin (Shankland 56), Halliday (Henderson 83); McKay, Grant (Haring 56), Mackay-Steven (Forrest 56); Humphrys (Ginnelly 65).
Referee: Willie Collum.