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.

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)

 

 

Scottish Cup for Hibs would mean ‘a lot’ says Omeonga

Omeonga and the Scottish Cup

Stephane Omeonga is yet to win a trophy in his short professional career (Credit: David Ronney)


Hibernian midfielder Stephane Omeonga has admitted he would love to win his first trophy with the club and replicate 2016’s Scottish Cup success.

The Edinburgh side welcome Celtic to Easter Road tomorrow night in the Scottish Cup quarter-finals.

The Belgian midfielder is yet to win a trophy in his professional career and said it would mean “a lot” if the club managed to the reigning champions.

He said: “If I win this it will be the first ever in my career, so it’s a good challenge.

“Every football wants to win titles. I saw a video of the fans singing Sunshine on Leith and it was wonderful, so if we can give them that joy then it would be really good.”


Despite his desire to win a trophy, the 22-year-old insists the Edinburgh side are not getting ahead of themselves and instead are “fully focused” on tomorrow’s match.

He added: “We just think that Celtic are a good team and just focus on that.

“We just think about that game and the rest we will see after.”

Tomorrow marks the return of former Hibernian manager Neil Lennon to Easter Road since he departed the club last month. However, Omeonga doesn’t believe this will affect what happens on the pitch.

“I don’t think about it to be honest,” he said.

“The first thing that went into my head is, am I going to play again?”

“I just think that we are facing Celtic who are a good team and who the manager is on the bench I don’t know, I don’t think about it.”

Lennon was the man that brought Omeonga to Hibs, but the Belgian only worked with Lennon for “two days and 45 minutes.”

Omeonga admitted he was initially unsure how Lennon’s exit would affect his position at the club but is confident a new manager will benefit the rest of the team.

Stephane Omeonga

The Belgian midfielder eyes up potential silverware this season (Credit: Luke Barry)

“The first thing that went into my head is, am I going to play again? And then the club and the staff  gave me some confidence that the project is still the same and they still believe in me, and since then it’s been good.

“I think it [can be] good [to have a new manager], because you don’t have the time to settle down and think I’ve earned it. I think every footballer has to show [their best] every day and every game and when a new coach comes you have that energy to show again [what you can do].”

 

Hearts captain expecting “tough run in” for SPFL title race

Christophe Berra

Christophe Berra believes Hearts could get themselves back in the title race. (Photo credit: Hayden Barry)

Hearts captain, Christophe Berra, knows his side will have tough task ahead if they’re to get themselves back battling for the Premiership title this season.

Just nine points separate first and sixth place in the league table, and the centre half is confident they can be in the race until the very end.

The Tynecastle side take on St. Johnstone this weekend and a win would see them move above the side from Perth into fifth place.

Berra spoke to the media about the tough challenge that awaits the club for the second half of the season. He said: “It is so tight between the top six just now, every team seems to be taking points off each other. You’ve got St Johnstone who have been consistent throughout, Aberdeen who started slowly but have picked up again. Celtic and Rangers are right at the top of their game as you would expect, so it is going to be a tough run in.

Christophe Berra

The Hearts defender was injured during the club’s impressive start to the season. (Photo credit: Hayden Barry)

“If we can pick up all the points against St Johnstone tomorrow, then it’ll be a perfect start to getting ourselves right in the mix again.

“We’ve all got to play each other, and points will be lost every weekend so it’ll come to who can keep their players fit, what team has that special bit of talent that can win you these big games, and who can get a bit of luck when it matters most.”

Berra has spent much of the first half of the season on the sidelines with a torn hamstring sustained in a 1-0 win over Celtic in August.

However, the 33-year-old is back in the squad and hopes players competing for places in the team can lead to better performances. He added: “Obviously, competition for places in the team is good, it is down to the gaffer to make his decision on what players he goes with, but everyone here is fighting for the jersey.

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Hearts captain said he’s aware of tough competition in the top six. (Photo credit: Hayden Barry)

“It’s great to see so much competition all over the park because if you don’t then some players can get a bit slack, so this will keep everyone on there toes. That is what you need if you want to build a strong squad and the manager is trying to do that.”

The Hearts captain spoke about how manager Craig Levein’s straightforward approach when addressing the players has helped the team improve on their mistakes.

“I’ve worked under a lot of managers but for me the one thing you really appreciate as a player is when the manager is honest with you, so you know where you stand. He had a few harsh words for the players and for the team overall.

“We know that we did not hit the standards that we have in the past, but the games are coming thick and fast, so we have an opportunity to put that right.”

VAR in Scottish football? – Podcast

VAR

SPFL managers have called for VAR technology to be added to the Scottish game. (Photo credit: SounderBruce via Wikipedia)

Following a meeting between the Scottish Premiership’s managers with the league’s match officials last week, there has been calls for Video Assistant Refereeing (VAR) to be added to the referee’s list of technology they have at their disposal.

However, with the cost of the equipment casting judgement to when we are likely to see it implemented in Scotland, can the top flight afford to wait any longer?

David Ronney, Luke Barry and Graham Miller sit down and discuss.

Scottish Football needs to improve its youth system

Rewind back to the 1980s and Scottish football is in full swing, with clubs recording success within Scotland and in European competitions. Clubs were full of homegrown players, who had been scouted and come through the ranks at their respective clubs.

Fast forward to the present day and only a handful of players receiving first-team minutes have come through the youth development systems put in place.

Looking back at how things used to be, Scottish football has taken a step backwards in terms of how they develop the youngsters coming through the ranks. Current Peterhead manager Jim McInally, who worked with the Celtic Youth Academy during the Martin O’Neill era, claims the pro-youth academies are “filled with young kids who will never make it”.

McInally believes the pro-youth system should be scrapped and the old “schools system” should be reinstated, where everyone should be playing for their school, something which isn’t currently happening. McInally is backing current Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, who wants to fix the problem from the bottom up. Strachan believes the coaching programmes in place need to be stripped down to the bare bone to a system that worked well for him and many other players coming through the ranks in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.

Those at the very top of Scottish football want to see a commitment from clubs to begin producing players again, but do they have what it takes to make it? The Scottish FA’s performance schools are there to ensure the players receive enough coaching to hone their skills and techniques but believe it is the clubs’ responsibility to make sure the players learn the importance of team play. Scottish football is producing players who have an element of natural ability and have practised their skills perfectly but lack the physical attributes to survive top-level football or the ability to overcome any obstacles.

At the beginning of 2017, the Daily Record looked at which Premiership club played the most Academy players. To qualify, players must have continuous service with their club — excluding any loan deals — and have at least one year of youth football under their belt, before moving onto the first team.

Rangers had the worst record with its homegrown players, with only two from the squad at the time recording first team minutes; Barry McKay and Liam Burt. Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes gave four players first team minutes in that season, Dons veterans Andrew Considine, Ryan Jack, Peter Pawlett, and youngster Scott Wright.

Since 2017, Jack and Pawlett have left for Rangers and England respectively, with a number of new Youth Academy recruits coming through. Old Firm rivals Celtic share third place with Hearts, both of which have produced seven players to feature in first team games. Topping the table for development of youth players is Hamilton Academical with 13 players recording first team minutes. Hamilton has always had a strong youth development system, producing James McArthur and James McCarthy who made big money moves to the English Premier League.

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Lewis Smith making his debut against Aberdeen. Picture provided by Hamilton Academical Football Club.

One Hamilton Youth Academy player who has recently made the step up to the first team is Lewis Smith. Smith made his first-team debut in a league defeat against Aberdeen in October, and said: “I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time so I was just determined to get on the pitch and show them what I can do”. Smith first got involved in football by “playing at his local boy’s club before being fortunate enough to be picked up by Hamilton”. When asked about Hamilton’s Youth Academy and the coaches, Smith had nothing but praise for the system and those who helped him through the way: “The coaches are very supportive here, most importantly George Cairns. George is a great motivator and it’s him I’ve got to thank for everything”.

The Scottish Youth system is an important feature for the development of players and an integral part of Scottish football as a whole.

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