Injured Hearts players set to return months ahead of schedule

Hearts hope to have John Souttar and Uche Ikpeazu back from injury and playing by the end of January.

No concrete timescale has been set for either player’s return but management at Riccarton expect both to be ready in around six weeks’ time.

Scotland centre-back Souttar underwent hip surgery in October, while English forward Ikpeazu had a foot operation. Both were expected to be absent until March, however their recoveries are progressing quickly.

Their rehabilitation will continue throughout the upcoming winter break in Scotland in the hope that they can be back in maroon by the end of next month.

John Souttar iis progressing well for a quicker return to the Hearts first team

Hearts will not rush either player into action but manager Craig Levein told the Evening News he is encouraged by their progress.

“I’m hoping John and Uche will be back after the winter break. Certainly by the end of January, I’d be hopeful that they will both be fit and ready to play,” he said. “That might be slightly early but they are still a little bit away, so it’s more difficult to say for sure.”

Hearts were buoyed by Christophe Berra’s return last week following four months out with a torn hamstring. Steven Naismith is the next key figure due back after knee surgery and is scheduled to play against Aberdeen at Pittodrie next weekend.

Once Souttar and Ikpeazu reappear, it will bring an end to a testing injury crisis. Centre-back Jimmy Dunne is out until January and is hoping his loan from Burnley can be extended.

Young full-back Jamie Brandon is also close to a first-team return having played for Hearts reserves last week. He has not played competitively in almost a year due to a serious knee injury and Levein is unlikely to risk him on Livingston’s astroturf pitch tomorrow night.

“Jamie has been back in training, which I’m really pleased about because he’s had a tough time of it,” said the manager. “I don’t know if he’s quite ready to be back involved in the first team again. His injury was a cruciate so there’s a bit of hesitancy about whether we throw him into a situation like tomorrow.”