Talking point: Steven Naismith was back for Hearts but no instant impact

In the 78th minute Craig Levein effectively waved the white flag as he removed Steven Naismith from proceedings.

Sunday, 23rd December 2018, 5:31 am
Updated Sunday, 23rd December 2018, 10:16 am
Steven Naismith played his first Hearts match in two months

Hearts trailed 2-0 following Sam Cosgrove's second of the match at Pittodrie and even the most optimistic of fans in the 1,045-strong travelling support would have found little hope to cling to that the away side would get back into the match.

The Scotland international's influence has been stark this season. In 16 matches prior to the trip north he had scored 11 times and only been on the losing side twice, one of which he was removed following an injury after eight minutes.

In his absence Hearts won just once as a six point lead at the top evaporated, with it went the team's confidence and attacking threat.

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Following the drubbing at the hands of Livingston last Friday, a 5-0 defeat, Craig Levein needed a galvanising effect. There were few better to perform such a role than Naismith. Since his injury it was clear he was the heartbeat of the team.

He's the attacking fulcrum, the link between midfield and attack, the motivator, the on-field coach and a de facto referee, something which a number of Aberdeen fans referenced following his influence in the fixture at Tynecastle which Hearts won 2-1.

Naismith expects high standards. If they are not met he lets team-mates know just that.

Towards the end of the first-half at Pittodrie he cut a frustrated figure in the middle of the park. He scratched his head and screamed out in annoyance. The game wasn't going Hearts way, nor the way he was expecting.

He must have been wondering where the team have gone in his absence.

The 32-year-old may have been having flashbacks to last season. The play was far too ponderous, safe and lacking in ambition and confidence. Naismith was getting the ball with his back to goal far too often and having to drop too deep, leaving Steven MacLean isolated.

The relationships and combinations which he had built up earlier in the season were missing. He took to coaching team-mates through the game.

Christophe Berra got a talking to in the first half and a bawling after the interval. Demetri Mitchell was another who Naismith was in constant dialogue with. There was a lot he was seeing which he simply didn't like.

His frustration spilled over before his substitution. He was involved in a tangle with Aberdeen's Lewis Ferguson, even having a nibble as the Dons midfielder lay on the ground. John Beaton produced a yellow card as the home support demanded a red card.

It wasn't the finest of returns for the player. However, the biggest positive was that he had returned, getting minutes under his belt before the Edinburgh derby on 29 December.

Naismith's biggest impact will be in the coming days, weeks and months, unfortunately for Hearts it wasn't quite immediate.