Levein’s “fingers crossed” over Naismith’s injury

Craig Levein

Craig Levein will be without Steven Naismith for the second time this season. (Credit: Luke Barry)

Hearts star striker Steven Naismith has been ruled out for 10 weeks after requiring surgery on his knee. He was substituted in a 2-1 defeat to Celtic last weekend in what would turn out to be his second major setback of this season.

He goes for his operation on Monday next week, however, his manager Craig Levein has not ruled out the possibility that he will return before the end of the season should Hearts make it to the Scottish Cup final.

He said: “I hope so, he came back from injury really quickly last time so fingers crossed it will be the same again. It is unfortunate for him and for us at the club too because we have a lot of big games ahead.”

Levein has voiced his empathy for Naismith, who will not only miss the majority of the club season, but potentially the European Championship play offs at the end of the season. The 32 year old would have most likely been a starter for Alex McLeish’s Scotland side who play Kazakstan and San Marino in the summer.

He said: “It is not only a shame for Hearts. He is also sitting on 49 caps and should be getting his 50th in a couple of months. He is a player whose generation has missed out on getting to major finals with Scotland and there is a chance that could happen this time. So I feel sorry for him as he has worked ever so hard to get back from his last injury.”

Steven Naismith was forced off in a 2-1 defeat to Celtic last week (Credit: SNS Group)

However, despite their form dipping the last time they were without Naismith, the Hearts boss is more confident in his squad at this stage of the season.

“When he was out previously we had a shortage of strikers. Craig Wighton is bak fully fit again after his ankle problem and we have also got David Vanecek back with us as well as Uche [Ikpeazu]. So it is a different situation altogether and I don’t feel nearly as anxious as earlier on in the season when we had to deal without Steven in the team.”

Hearts play Dundee away in the league on Saturday as their hunt for Europe continues as they currently sit in fifth place and three points off Kilmarnock. Craig Levein will be hopeful that his side can claim all three points against the team currently a point from bottom in the table.

 

Hearts sign former Leeds left back Aidy White

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Heart of Midlothian have bolstered their squad with the addition of former Leeds United and Barnsley left back Aidy White.

White, a free agent, had been on the radar of manager Craig Levein for over a year, and signed a contract this afternoon that will keep him at Tynecastle until 2021.

The news comes after the club also announced Uche Ikpeazu is extending his deal until 2022.

“We’ve been in dialogue with Aidy for a year and feel that now is the right time to bring him in,” Levein said.

“He’s got a lot of work to do to reach the level we think he’s capable of but I’m confident he can fulfil his potential and prove to be a vital cog in the wheel as we look towards the future.”

The 27-year-old defender came through the Leeds youth system and played over 100 games before joining Barnsley, winning the Football League Trophy and the League One Play-Off Final in 2016.

He has also captained Northern Ireland U21s but a groin injury forced him out in 2017.

 

Wighton hoping to benefit from Naismith absence

Craig Wighton

Wighton is looking for a fresh start after injury (Credit: Luke Barry)

Heart of Midlothian striker Craig Wighton is looking to break into the starting line-up ahead of tomorrow’s match against Dundee.

Team-mate Steven Naismith is set to be out for eight to 10 weeks with a recurring knee injury, and whilst Wighton knows that he’ll be a big miss for the club, he believes that the hole can be filled.

“[Naismith] has done a lot for us this season, with the amount of goals he’s got,” Wighton said.

“Obviously he’s already missed a few games this season, and we missed him a lot during that period, so it’s a big task for all the forwards to replace him.

 

“But we’ve got a lot of good players; Uche, Macca, Vanacek and Keena as well. There’s a lot of competition here, but I think for any team, they would miss a player like ‘Naisy’.

“But all the forwards have got to think that [we can take his place]. He’s a big player for us, but we’ve got some important games coming up, so it’s a big opportunity.

“We all need to start chipping in with goals.”

Injury and lack of form has meant that Wighton has been limited to only nine league appearances so far this season. He’s become almost a forgotten man at Tynecastle, something that he accepts, but he insists that he’s ready to make a new start at the club.

“It does a bit [feel like starting again],” he admitted.

“I feel like I’m in better shape than when I first came here.

“I’ve had a few games back-to-back, which I haven’t had for a while. Even though it’s reserves football, it’s good to get these games under your belt to get up to speed.

“I’m feeling sharp now and if I do get called upon, then I’ll be ready.”

Tomorrow’s match will see Wighton return to Dundee, a club he knows very well. He came through the academy at the Tayside club, before leaving them to join Hearts last August.

The 21-year-old admits that he is shocked to see his old side battling relegation this season.

“I am [surprised at Dundee’s position in the league table],” he said.

“Obviously it’s almost a completely different squad to when I left – I don’t know many of the players that are there now – but I’ve seen them a couple of times this season and they’ve been decent.

“But it’s hard to get a good run of games when you’re in that position. It’s a big game on Saturday, so we’ll be looking to go there and get the three points.

“I appreciate everyone that Dundee did of me during my career but I’m at Hearts now. If I get an opportunity on Saturday, I’ll be looking to score.”

Raith Rovers “have to believe” they can be promoted says manager

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Raith Rovers manager John McGlynn says the club “have to believe” they can be promoted into the Championship after missing out last season.

Raith slipped to third in Scottish League One last weekend after drawing 2-2 with Stranraer, but are safely within the promotion places with a 10 point gap to fifth-placed Montrose.

McGlynn says his side have “ambitions” to return to the Scottish Championship where they feel they belong.

Speaking exclusively to EN4 News, he said: “We obviously are a big club and we have ambitions to be in the Championship, we were very hopeful we were going to win promotion, win the league and go up directly through winning it.

“Unfortunately we find ourselves 15 points behind Arbroath with nine games to go and they would have to have a disaster which I’m not expecting to happen, so it means the play-offs is the next opportunity and avenue to get into the Championship.

“We’ve got to believe that we can still do that, that’s our aim. Raith Rovers unfortunately were in League 1 last year, didn’t manage to make it out  and get into the Championship where we feel we belong, so we’re trying to put that right this season.”

 

Raith host Airdrie tomorrow looking to get back to winning ways, after drawing the last two matches and failing to win more than one game in the last five.

McGlynn wants to see his team become more clinical in the final third.

“We’ve missed some opportunities in games where we should’ve killed opposition off, and we end up getting caught with the sucker-punch and dropping points in some games,  even although we’ve scored eight goals in the last three games,” he said.

“We’re the top scorers in the league so you know, everything is not doom and gloom, we score a lot of goals.  Last Saturday we had to come from behind, 2-0 down we had to come from behind so the boys showed great character and similarly on the Tuesday night against Dumbarton, we came back really well, Dumbarton have showed good form recently.

“You’re always concerned [about form], you want to win every game you go into. We’ve not been taking our chances which is a big thing in football, you’ve got to take your opportunities when they come along and we’ve not done that often.”

McGlynn is aware that tomorrow’s match will be difficult even though Airdrie have also been in patchy form lately.

“Airdrie got a good win last week, they were on the back of a difficult run, they weren’t going particularly well,” McGlynn said.

“Ian Murray has them really well organised, they’re always a really difficult opponent to play against. Again they’ve got a good blend of young players, some of which are on loan and some experience as well so there’s no easy game.

“It’s a tough league, there’s absolutely no easy games so everyone is kind of beating everyone, it’s only Arbroath that have been exceptional and got themselves quite a substantial lead.

“It’ll be a difficult game but obviously we’re looking to consolidate our play-off position, try and finish the season as high as we possibly can, get as many points as we possibly can, and go into the play-offs in good form, confident and looking to get promoted.”

Hibs showing great “intensity and drive” says Heckingbottom

Paul Heckingbottom

Paul Heckingbottom suffered his first defeat as Hibernian manager against Celtic last weekend (Credit: Luke Barry)

Hibernian manager Paul Heckingbottom has praised his side’s “intensity and drive” as they look to seal a sixth place spot in the Scottish Premiership.

Heckingbottom has won three of his first four games in charge at Easter Road, but lost to Celtic last weekend 2-0 in the quarter-final of the Scottish Cup.

Hibs face Rangers tonight in the league, and the manager admitted that Steven Gerrard’s side could have an advantage as they have a larger squad to work with.

“They’ve been good, hit a lot of form now [and] scoring goals,” Heckingbottom said.

“I can’t imagine Steven changing too much, but he does have the capabilities to do that if he wants with the squad he’s got and the players he’s got competing for each position but I don’t think there’ll be too much different in the set-up and how he approaches the game.

“We’re struggling with injuries and suspensions where we don’t have the personnel to rotate the squad without significantly weakening the team.”

Hibs are currently sixth in the league, three points behind neighbours Hearts but three points clear of St Johnstone.

Heckingbottom revealed that remaining in the top six is now the aim for the rest of the season.

He added: “That’s our focus [and]that’s what our focus has been.

“We’ve been chasing, and we said that before the last away game that all of a sudden we are now in the top six with teams chasing us, we earned the right to be in the driving seat if you like, get the sixth spot.

“The players fought and fought and fought and managed to pull away and get another three points, so it’s that sort of intensity and drive we want to have between now and the end of the season.

“You’ve got to fight for it, whoever does get in that top six will deserve it and we want to make sure that it’s us.”

Heckingbottom also praised the efforts his squad has made to adapt to his tactics, with everyone at the club “on the same page” and “searching for the same answers.”

He said: “The players have responded really well [to my way of working].

“We earned the right to be in the driving seat if you like, [to] get the sixth spot.”

“I spoke to them again in training and whatever ideas I have they’ll do it and when they’re trying and giving everything I back them 100%.

“We know we are in progress, we know where we are in the league in terms of standings, size of clubs, but we have to use that to our advantage and be a team that enjoys playing against the so-called bigger clubs, and also enjoying having the status of a big club ourselves when other teams come to town.

“So we know where we are, we’ve really enjoyed the start but we know we’ve got to keep improving.”

It all gets underway at Easter Road from 7:45pm and the match is live on BT Sport.

Sports Paper Review: March 8th

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Fraser Munro spoke to Luke Barry and Bryce Donaldson about today’s big stories in sports, from Hearts’ striker penning a new three year deal to Scotland rugby captain being benched for the weekends game.

Stevenson reveals “excitement” at working under 10th Hibs boss

Lewis Stevenson

Lewis Stevenson has spent 14 years at the club (Credit: David Ronney)

Hibernian left-back Lewis Stevenson says it’s a clean slate for himself as he works under his 10th boss, Paul Heckingbottom, as he looks to impress his new manager.

The 31-year-old made his debut for the Edinburgh club in 2005 and is currently the longest serving player at the club.

However, he admitted he feels there is still the same nerves when a new boss is appointed.

He said: “Every time a new manager is appointed there is the same nerves and apprehension, and perhaps the same excitement as well. I have learnt something new from everyone who’s managed at Hibs, I don’t think it matters how old you are at all.

“With Paul coming all the way from England, of course the lads feel like they have a point to prove. But as soon as he came in it was clear he knew all about us so that helped put our minds at ease.”

The clubs perfect record under Heckingbottom came to an end in their quarter-final clash with Celtic at Easter Road on Saturday.

Stevenson spoke of the positives and negatives the side took from their defeat against the reigning champions.

He added: “There are things we did very well on Saturday and things we didn’t do so well, but we know what we need to focus on. If we can get rid of the negatives then that will stand us in good stead for the future.”

However, things are not about to get any easier for Easter Road side as they host Steven Gerrard’s Rangers on Friday night.

Lewis Stevenson

Hibernian were knocked out the Scottish Cup last weekend in a 2-0 home defeat to Celtic (Credit: David Ronney)

According to the veteran full back, the games against the bigger teams in Scotland are the ones he relishes most.

He said: “These are the games you really want to play in, when it’s a full house. Big crowds usually mean a higher tempo and a higher intensity of game. We’re a more physical side now and we’ll need all our stamina on Friday night.

“We’re looking at them as a team and we’re well aware how good a side they are from playing them at Ibrox earlier on in the season. But if we implement our game plan then we know we’ve got a very good chance to come away with all the points.”

Hibs are currently in sixth place, and only three points off rivals Hearts. With a European spot not yet out of sight, Stevenson spoke of the sides desire to push on and finish as high in the table as possible.

“We’re trying not to focus too much on how the table looks and just take each game that comes to us. We’ve got five games before the split and we’ll try to get three or four wins and see where that leaves us.”

Uche Ikpeazu inks new Hearts deal until 2022

Uche Ikpeazu

Ikpeazu will remain at Hearts until 2022 (Credit: Luke Barry)

Heart of Midlothian forward Uche Ikpeazu has signed a two-year contract extension at Tynecastle.

The Englishman, who joined the club last summer, will remain at the Edinburgh club until 2022.

The striker has recently returned from a five month lay-off following a foot injury, and has been in fine form since.

The 24-year-old insisted that it was an easy decision to commit his future to Hearts.

“This club has given me a great platform to improve. I love the club, the fans, the city and my teammates as well,” he said.

“I genuinely think I’m improving and getting back to my best. I feel I’m back playing really good now.

“I feel confident and it’s just the goals to come, really. Now is the right time to extend my contract here because I feel the love from the management, the staff and the fans.”

Ikpeazu will be looking to net his first goal for the club since August tomorrow when Hearts face relegation battlers Dundee at Dens Park.

Hibs boss calls for improved fan behaviour following bottle incident

Paul Heckingbottom

Paul Heckingbottom said Hibernian fans must conduct themselves in the right manner (Credit: Luke Barry)

Hibernian manager Paul Heckingbottom has urged fans of the club to become “the best off the pitch” following an incident in last weekend’s Scottish Cup defeat to Celtic.

Celtic winger, Scott Sinclair was almost struck by a bottle and coin thrown from the stands in Saturday’s 2-0 defeat as the hosts bowed out of the Scottish Cup at the quarter-final stage.

The incident is one in a long series this season where missiles have been thrown towards match officials, managers and players themselves.

Heckingbottom delivered a message to the supporters of the Edinburgh club, urging them to behave themselves so that the club can become the “best supported” team on and off the pitch.

He said: “People can get carried away I understand that, people may have been out and had a few drinks before, but there’s still a way that you have to behave at a football match.

“And just like how I speak to our players about representing the club our fans represent the club as well, and [while] we want to be the best football team on the pitch, we [also] want to be the best supported team off the pitch as well.”

Heckingbottom continued, stating that misbehaving fans must be identified and disgraced, suggesting that sanctions must be handed out in order nip the issue in the bud.

He added: “It has been topical up here [but] you don’t want to see that anywhere you know.

“And we want to get a grip of it so whilst we can appeal to people to behave themselves and be responsible, we also need to get better ways to identify people and enforce penalties, enforce bans, things like that because you want the best possible products on the pitch and off the pitch.

“As a collective people have to take responsibility for it whether that’s fans in round about, friends if you’ve got a friend misbehaving, clubs to identify their own supporters if they’re possibly doing it and sanctions imposed by whoever can impose the sanctions.”

“You want as many people as you can attending, you want to grow the sport in your country and make it appealing not only to paying fans but TV fans as well and part of that is behaviour and how people perceive individual teams and the league as a whole.

“The safety of the players is paramount. As a footballer you should be going out there and giving it everything, that should be your sole focus to do your job and perform as well as you possibly can. Not worried that every time you take a throw-in or a set-piece and you’re near the fans that something is going to happen.”

Following the incident, Chief Executive Leeann Dempster issued a statement saying the club will be installing additional CCTV cameras to avoid issues like this in the future.

She said: “This incident, and the damage to our reputation, has led us to now invest further in upgrading our already modern CCTV set-up at no small cost.

“Clearly this is also money we would rather be spending on football.

“In future, there will be no hiding place for those few individuals who seek to tarnish the reputation of the vast majority who do Hibernian proud on a weekly basis at grounds all over the country.

“Any supporter caught engaging in behaviour that places players, staff and other fans at risk will be dealt with in the strongest possible terms available to us, whether that involves exclusion from Easter Road Stadium, a Football Banning Order or criminal prosecution when appropriate.

The Easter Road club return to Scottish Premiership action on Friday night as they host Rangers. Kick off is at 7:45pm.

My Morning Routine*

(Credit: Jade Du Preez)

McDonaugh: City can’t fall further behind league leaders

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McDonaugh’s City led for most of the season (Credit: Ross Cowper-Fraser)

Edinburgh City manager James McDonaugh has urged his side to keep winning games as they look to close the gap to Peterhead in the Scottish League Two.

City have been league leaders for much of the season, but following a 1-0 loss at Clyde on Saturday, they are now five points behind Peterhead with nine games remaining.

McDonaugh’s men bounced back from defeat with a 1-0 victory over Berwick Rangers on Tuesday, but the manager admitted City can’t afford to fall any further behind.

He said: “There probably was more pressure to be fair [on Tuesday] because we don’t want to fall further behind.

“Peterhead could’ve gone eight points ahead of us yesterday so we wanted to hang in there, that’s what we did.

 

“At this stage of the season we have more points than the team that won it last season; Montrose had 55 [points] after 27 games and we’ve got 58, so it shows you how well we’ve done.

“But it also shows you how good Clyde and Peterhead are as well. It’s just been a terrific league and sometimes you’ve got to just look at other teams and say how well they’ve done as well.”

City have been outstanding defensively this season, with goalkeeper Calum Antell claiming a clean sheet in almost half the games he has played.

However, McDonaugh admitted that he wants more creativity from his side going forward in the push for the title.

He added: “I would like to see a little more created in the final third.

“That’s the one thing we have to work on.

“We’ve played 27 league games [and] we’ve had 13 clean sheets in the league which is a fantastic return. Almost every second game, and Blair Henderson [has] obviously scored a fantastic amount of goals.

“I think we just need some other players to chip in with a bit more creativity and goal scoring.”

City head to Queen’s Park on Saturday, a team they have beaten three times already this season.

Although McDonaugh is aware beating them for a fourth time will be difficult, he added that there is now an added impetus on winning games as their destiny is now out of their hands.

He said: “You could say we have to win them all.

“We’re in a good position to still be challenging, we just want to try and win as many games as we can between now and the end of the season.

“If we were to finish top four and make the play-offs that would be a fantastic achievement. What I’m trying to say is eighth would have been an improvement because we finished ninth last season, and that’s a fact.”

“So to go from ninth place, fighting relegation, to then be going into a promotion play-off is fantastic. I think people maybe just get a bit carried away when you’ve been top for a lot of the weeks of the season.

“I think at the end of the day if we were to finish top four, three, two, one or whatever, it’s still a great achievement to be going in with something to fight for in the play-offs.”

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