Hearts boss Ian Cathro looking forward to the return of experienced former Newcastle United and Fulham defender Aaron Hughes

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Hearts head coach Ian Cathro admits he is looking forward to welcoming veteran defender Aaron Hughes back for the post-split fixtures as his side desperately bid to revive their Europa League qualifying hopes.

The Gorgie outfit have kept clean sheets in the recent win over Dundee and last Friday’s draw at Kilmarnock but Cathro concedes that his side miss the 37-year-old’s ‘experience and influence’.

Northern Ireland internationalist Hughes has not played since Feburary’s bitterly disappointing 3-1 Scottish Cup defeat to city rivals Hibs due to a problem in his calf area.

But the former Newcastle United and Fulham centre half is expected to return to training next week ahead of the April 29 visit for Partick Thistle.

Cathro said: “Aaron will hopefully be back training in a week’s time, so we’re hoping he can be available for Partick.

“It’s a smaller muscle to the side of his calf that’s the issue, and it needs an extra bit of time to develop the strength around it. That’s continuing.

“We miss the quality he’s got as a player, we miss the experience he has as a person and we miss the influence.

“These are all things we have to deal with and we look forward to when he can come back.”

Hearts closed the gap on fourth place St Johnstone with a point at Rugby Park but Cathro insists he is not paying any attention to the prospect of trying to catch the Perth outfit, particularly when he has plenty of work to do behind the scenes.

Cathro, whose side travel to McDiarmid Park for their penultimate fixture of the campaign, said: “We focus on ourselves for now.

“When that space becomes lower and we reach a point that we play against them then we can consider those things. But we’re working and focussing entirely on ourselves just now.

“We need to be better, we are progressing, slowly, but we’ve no concerns moving on.”

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