Harry Cochrane and Craig Wighton have been added to Hearts’ lengthy absentee list ahead of Saturday’s trip to play Aberdeen.
Teenage midfielder Cochrane, who has endured an injury-disrupted campaign so far, was being primed for involvement at Pittodrie this weekend when he suffered an ankle knock in Monday’s reserve match against Rangers at Oriam. Craig Levein is hopeful that his latest setback is not serious but the highly-regarded youngster, whose last start came against Rangers earlier this month, is unlikely to be involved this weekend.
Striker Wighton, who started in the 2-2 draw at St Johnstone a fortnight ago, is also struggling with an ankle problem sustained in training before last Friday’s 5-0 defeat at Livingston. The pair are set to join Clevid Dikamona, Jimmy Dunne, John Souttar, Uche Ikpeazu and the suspended Arnaud Djoum in missing the match at Pittodrie.
Manager Levein had explained at Tuesday’s annual general meeting how injuries to so many key players this season, particularly in attack, had forced him to rely more heavily than he would have liked on recent signings. Wighton, 21, Sean Clare, 22, and 36-year-old striker Steven MacLean. “I tried to sign (Czech striker) David Vanecek in August but his club were impossible to deal with,” said Levein as he told shareholders why Hearts have struggled to cope without their two main attackers, Ikpeazu and Steven Naismith over the past two months. “It went on and on until I realised we weren’t going to get him in August. So in the meantime, I signed what I thought was a really good long-term prospect in Craig Wighton. And I still think he will be a very good player in time.
“But because of the strikers we’ve lost, all of a sudden, Wighton has become something I didn’t want him to become, which is someone I’ve had to rely on in the early part of his Hearts career. For young players, having the responsibility of being one of the main striker here is hard and it can affect them. If they don’t play well and it creates a negative experience of playing at Tynecastle, that’s bad for the player and for me. I try to put young players in when the rest of the team is quite solid and everything else around him is working well. I haven’t been able to do that with Craig and I haven’t been able to do it with Sean Clare who I think will be a fantastic player. He’s been thrown in to be a solution to a problem that has arisen.
“Some of you may see it differently, but from inside, seeing what’s going on within the group and watching our games back, I feel like I’m putting pressure on players who are probably not ready for it yet. I don’t want to continue doing that. I signed Steven MacLean to play 15 games and be a great example to the kids. But he’s played nearly every game, probably to his detriment. Earlier in the season, when Uche was playing, Steven was doing really well. Now Steven’s probably getting criticised because he’s doing something that he’s not capable of doing. He’s not a lone striker, he doesn’t have the mobility to play up on his own.”