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.”

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.

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.

Partick Thistle v Hearts – Scottish Cup Preview

Scottish Cup

Partick Thistle have had a troubling season since last year’s relegation to the Championship (Credit: David Ronney)

Hearts are aiming to reach the semi final of both domestic cups this season when they play Partick Thistle at Firhill Park on Monday evening. 

The team from the capital will be hoping to bounce back after suffering last minute heartbreak against Celtic, where they conceded a 90th minute goal to lose 2-1 after going down to ten men.

Craig Levein has seen his side go four league games without a win, the last time they came away with three points was at Kilmarnock at the start of February. Their form has seen them slip out of the title race and down to fifth place in the Premiership table, now only three points above rivals Hibs in the league.

The Jambos can take comfort from their battering of Auchinlech Talbot 4-0 in the previous round. They also impressed in a 1-0 win over Livingston in the 4th round.

Partick are one of three Championship teams left in the Scottish Cup battling for a place in the semi-final stage and will be hoping to add to Hearts’ recent poor run of form in the league.

Considering they are currently bottom of the Championship it has been a very mixed season for the team from Glasgow who remarkably find themselves in a Scottish Cup quarter final with a real shot at making it into the last four.

Thistle have shown similarly disappointing form in the league, and having lost their last two games, find themselves rock bottom of the league on goal difference. Whilst it is tight at the foot of the table with a point between 8th and 10th, Gary Caldwell’s men will be all to wary of relegation this late on in the season.

The sides last meeting was Scottish Premiership in 2014 at Tynecastle, and saw Partick Thistle come away with three points after a thrilling 4-2 win.

Both sides will be eager to win, but the pressure will be stacked on Hearts as they look for silverware in a season that looks to have fizzled out after such promise in the league.

Scottish Cup

The trophy both clubs are vying for (Credit: Luke Barry)

 

 

Thistle not to be taken lightly says Hearts’ Ikpeazu

Uche Ikpeazu

Hearts’ Uche Ikpeazu expects another tough Scottish Cup tie on Monday night (Credit: Luke Barry)

Heart of Midlothian forward, Uche Ikpeazu believes Partick Thistle are not a side to be taken lightly as the Edinburgh club travel to Firhill on Monday night.

After suffering relegation to the Championship last season, Gary Caldwell‘s side are at risk of déjà vu as they currently sit bottom of Scotland’s second tier.

However, the experience the side have against Premiership clubs is a reason they shouldn’t written off Ikpeazu insisted ahead of the clubs Scottish Cup quarter-final tie.

He said: “There’s always upsets in these cup games and everyone is probably expecting us to win and sometimes that can also work against you because people think ‘they’ve got to win anyway’. I believe if we do what we do, we’ll win. We just got to focus on ourselves and not the opposition.”


The former Watford player put in a terrific performance against Celtic midweek and just a month on from his return from injury looks closer to getting back to his best.

However, his injury woes earlier in the season kept him out of Hearts’ Betfred Cup semi-final, but the opportunity to guide the club into this stage in the Scottish Cup is something the 24-year-old relishes.

He added: “Watching it [league cup semi-final] was crazy. Seeing how many fans [there were] in the stadium, I would have loved to be a part of it.

“I want to be a part of that this time.

 

“It’s a massive game for the club. It’s come at the right time. I think that game [against Celtic] done me good and now I feel I’ve set the bar and need to perform at that level consistently now, and the team as well, because if we perform like that then we’ll do extremely well.”

 

Hearts can compete with everyone believes Levein

Craig Levein

Craig Levein was happy with performance against Celitc despite defeat (Credit: Luke Barry)

Heart of Midlothian manager Craig Levein insists his team can “compete with everyone” ahead of Monday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final against Partick Thistle.

Hearts lost 2-1 to Celtic at Tynecastle on Wednesday, but despite the result Levein is confident the Edinburgh side are back to their best.

“Yeah I think there was enough in the performance [against Celtic] which made me see we can compete with everybody again,” Levein said.

“We’ve got through troubles defensively with injuries yet again but we can cope with that.

 

“We got to the semi-final of the Betfred Cup earlier on in the season and we lost Steven Naismith in the first minute of the match or something like that which made it extremely difficult for us, but the experience of getting there was good.

“I think it’s a while since we’ve managed to get to two semi-finals so if we can do that and get the victory against Partick I think it puts us in a good position.”

Partick Thistle are currently bottom of the Scottish Championship but are a team Hearts know well having played in the Premiership with them last season.

Levein is aware of the challenge Gary Caldwell’s side will bring, promising he won’t take the Monday night’s match “lightly”.

He added: “It’s a good opportunity to get to a semi-final so we will be playing our best team.

Craig Levein

Hearts will not be taking Partick Thistle lightly says Levein (Credit: Luke Barry)

“The thing is we’re away from home, I’d rather be at home. It will be on us to take the game to Partick.

“Partick are fighting for their lives in the Championship and they’ve got some very experienced players who, if they’re on their game on Monday, have got really good quality.

“I still see Partick Thistle as a big, big club, and that in itself gives us warnings going into this game.

“Thinking just because they’re bottom of the Championship it’s a game we should win easily, that’s just not the case. We know enough about them not to take it too lightly.”

Uche Ikpeazu‘s recent return from a foot injury has been a big boost for Hearts, with the forward impressing on Wednesday against Celtic.

Levein has been impressed with the striker’s work rate and hopes he can be the key for Hearts’ success on Monday.

“I was worried about him [on Wednesday], he put in a lot of effort, a lot of running, and he’s not long back from injury.

“Uche was back to his best and hopefully he’s pretty much the same on Monday.”

The final match of the Scottish Cup weekend gets underway at 7:05pm and is live on BBC Scotland.

Hearts boss taking Auchinleck cup tie “very seriously”

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Levein is aware of Auchinleck’s threat (Credit: Luke Barry)

Heart of Midlothian Craig Levein has insisted he’s taking Sunday’s Scottish Cup fifth round tie against Auchinlek Talbot “very seriously.”

Auchinleck play in the junior leagues whilst Hearts are a Scottish Premiership side, but Levein was quick to dismiss talk that Auchinleck would be an easy opponent and insisted he’s treating the game like any other.

“It is a cup competition – only one of three major trophies available in this country – so of course we are taking it very seriously,” he said.

“I am looking forward to it. It is an unusual match to be pitched against a team in junior football. Having played in junior football myself I know that there is a lot of good players at that level.”

Hearts and Auchinleck have history, with the two clubs meeting in the same competition in 2012. Auchinleck won that tie 1-0, and Levein is more than aware that history could repeat itself.

 “I think that is exactly how the game could pan out if we do not move the ball quickly enough,” he commented.

“We are a level above where they are at the moment. But they are a team that find a way to win week in, week out and that is dangerous.

“Obviously there is no pressure on Auchinleck to get anything out of this game so perhaps that could be an advantage for them, but I have been to see their match last week and I know how they play so we don’t have any excuses to not be prepared for Sunday.”

Ikpeazu keen to make up for “lost time”

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Ikpeazu is delighted to get back playing after a five month injury (Credit: Luke Barry)

Heart of Midlothian striker Uche Ikpeazu is keen to make up “for lost time” after returning from a foot injury against Livingston on Wednesday night.

Ahead of Hearts’ Scottish Cup fifth round tie against Auchinleck Talbot, Ikpeazu admitted he is “focusing on having a good end to the season” after missing the last five months.

“As a footballer, nobody wants to be injured, but unfortunately it is part and parcel and we have had a few of them this season,” he said.

“It’s been tough but I’ve worked really hard, now I am focused on having a good end to the season and making up for lost time.”

“I’ve had a few operations in my time and obviously after it, the foot can take a lot of time to heal and even then it may not be the same. It is a testament to the hard work and the fantastic facilities at Hearts that have helped me make a strong recovery.”

 

Ikpeazu’s injury was one of several for Hearts this season, with defenders Christophe Berra and John Souttar also missing several months with their own woes.

“We had so many injuries that happened all of a sudden last year, we were all working together to get fit and encourage each other on a day to day basis. We are all back now and it helped that I wasn’t alone.

“It was frustrating being on the sidelines and seeing the team struggle, especially with the great start we had to the season.

“I still maintain that if we kept everyone fit we could be right up there, even without all our players we are still not far off and now it is about making the best of the end of the season.”

Ikpeazu admitted that the supporters “have been massive” to him during his time out, and helped keep him motivated.

“Coming on and hearing the cheers was really good and it motivates me. I know the best is yet to come.

“The fans have been massive to me, even when I was injured. A couple of days of my operation I was receiving messages saying they can’t wait to have me back, that means so much and it motivated me even more to get back quicker.”

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