Hearts set to welcome back Steven Naismith & Don Cowie as Craig Levein heaps praise on Arnaud Djoum



CRAIG LEVEIN is set to welcome back Scotland international duo Steven Naismith and Don Cowie for Hearts’ clash against Ross County.

Levein chose to err on the side of caution by leaving Naismith out of Saturday’s 3-0 Scottish Cup win over St Johnstone, with the experienced striker having complained of a slight hamstring strain. Anthony McDonald, just 16, replaced the former Rangers forward in the side and shone alongside Kyle Lafferty.

Don Cowie, also plagued with a niggling hamstring issue, has missed the Jambos’ last two fixtures but will fittingly be back in contention to face the club where he began his career almost two decades ago.

“I toyed with playing Naismith [against St Johnstone],” confirmed Levein. “He had a tight hamstring after last week and I was a wee bit wary – he felt it was lingering.

“The last thing I could afford was him to be out six weeks so decided to leave him and ensure he would be fit 100 per cent for the following week. We will definitely get Don Cowie back for the match against Ross County as well, which is good.”

Harry Cochrane, recently at the focal point of a fiery clash between Levein and Scott Brown after a challenge by the Celtic captain left the 16-year-old with a back injury, could also be in line for a return to action in Dingwall.

And, with David Milinkovic set to start after being rested at the weekend, Levein admits he is delighted with the options available to his squad as they seek to extend a run of just one defeat in 15 matches.

“I’m hoping to have young Harry back,” continued Levein. “I like to have the option of picking him, as people have seen in recent weeks.

“I’m starting to feel good about what is on the bench and the options we have. Once we get Don, Naisy and Harry back then it will be even better.

(PIC: heartsfc.co.uk)

“I gave David Milinkovic the day off on Saturday. He sat on the bench but will be 100 per cent for next week.”

Meanwhile, Levein believes Cameroon internationalist Arnaud Djoum is finally recapturing the form which saw him lift the African Cup of Nations and draw admiring glances from the likes of Bordeaux, Caen and Montpellier.

The 28-year-old endured a sluggish start to the campaign before suffering a medial knee ligament damage in September which sidelined him for two months.

However, Djoum looked back to his best against the Saints, cutting an energetic and combative presence in the centre of midfield and teeing up Kyle Lafferty’s opening goal.

“Arnaud had his best game of the season,” lauded Levein. “I thought he was excellent, typified by winning the ball and playing it through for Kyle’s goal.

“He’s had problems injury-wise and is only just getting up to full speed and I think that showed. He’s slowly getting back to full fitness and against St Johnstone was more prominent than he has been for a while.”