Hearts duo Uche Ikpeazu and John Souttar both out for five months
Hearts will be without striker Uche Ikpeazu and defender John Souttar for five months, Craig Levein has revealed.
The centre-back felt pain in his hip area while playing for Scotland against Israel last week, before being sent off for a second bookable offence in the 2-1 UEFA Nations League defeat in Haifa.
The 22-year-old will be sidelined until the spring, with Levein confirming that the defender had torn the lining of his hip, and could be out for up to six months.
Souttar has started all 14 of the Capital club’s matches this season, and featured for the national side in the Nations League double header agaiunst Albania and Israel, as well as the friendly against Belgium.
Ikpeazu, meanwhile, requires surgery on a foot injury that could keep him out until March.
The 23-year-old striker has scored four goals in ten appearances for the Jambos since his summer switch from Cambridge United.
Speaking ahead of Saturday’s match with Aberdeen at Tynecastle, Levein said: “John will be out for five or six months by the looks of things. He landed awkwardly and tore the lining of his hip, which is a blow.”
The former Dundee United defender has already endured the agony of a lengthy injury lay-off before, having been sidelined for the first half of 2017 after rupturing his Achilles.
Despite Souttar’s latest setback, Levein is confident that the stand-in skipper can battle back to fitness.
“John’s a tough boy, as we saw with the Achilles problem. He fought back and got himself into the national team and he’s also been the captain of Hearts too.
“He’s just been unfortunate. He dealt with the previous injury very stoically and got on with it.
“He worked very hard to get himself into a position where he could help himself and the team. All credit to him for that.”
Hearts have been without Christophe Berra since the 1-0 win over Celtic at Tynecastle in the second league game of the season, with the club captain expected to return from a serious hamstring injury around Christmas time.
Jimmy Dunne, who joined on loan from Burnley during the summer, has been filling in but Levein conceded that his squad is looking stretched at the back.
He added: “We’ve missed Christophe, but Jimmy has done a great job. We’ve got Clevid Dikamona and Aaron Hughes, but we are a little bit thin on the ground at the back.
“To lose John and Christophe isn’t an ideal situation. Sometimes it’s quite interesting being a manager, having to deal with things like this. It is frustrating, but it’s just normal.”
Ikpeazu has been key to Hearts’ early season form, but came off worse in a challenge with Motherwell goalkeeper Trevor Carson during the 1-0 win at Fir Park in mid-September.
His absence will be keenly felt, although the arrival of David Vanecek from FK Teplice in January will go some way to easing the burden on Steven MacLean, Steven Naismith and Craig Wighton.
Describing the issue as “obscure”, Levein said: “Uche will be out for five months as well by the looks of things. This problem we’ve had with his foot we’ve managed to finally get to the bottom of.
“It’s a really obscure problem which needs an operation.
“Uche has been flying, as John was, but I think they will help each other on the recovery trail and both will come back stronger than before.
“One thing this business has taught me is to expect the worst. When you are flying, there are always problems. We’ll deal with it. The good thing is our recruitment was good and we’ve got adequate replacements.”