Hearts sweat over Michael Smith fitness – as Craig Levein rues Prince Buaben misfortune

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BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport

HEARTS star Michael Smith faces a race against time to be fit for the Jambos’ clash against Aberdeen on Saturday.

The 29-year-old was forced to sit out of the capital club’s 1-1 draw against Dundee last weekend after suffering a recurrence of a persistent back complaint during training.

Ross Callachan deputised for the Northern Ireland internationalist – who has been utilised in the heart of midfield by head coach Craig Levein of late – and opened the scoring with a fine curling effort at Dens Park.

Levein intends to monitor Smith’s fitness in training in the next 48 hours but is hopeful he could be in contention to face the Dons.

Meanwhile, Levein admits that injuries have wrecked Prince Buaben’s season as the midfielder’s Hearts career hangs in the balance.

The 29-year-old faces yet another stint on the sidelines after suffering a hamstring strain – for the second time this term – during last week’s Development League derby against Hibernian. The former Dundee United and Partick Thistle man also endured a groin complaint earlier in the campaign.

Fitness woes have restricted Buaben to just 13 starts – 22 appearances overall – and, with his contract set to expire at the end of the season, it is unclear whether his four-year stay in Gorgie will be extended.

“Prince has had one thing after another and has never really had a run of games,” rued Levein. “He has not had a steady run of training week in, week out,

“His performances when he has played have not been as good as he has been in the past. I put that down to the fact that he has not had the opportunity to train and play consistently.

“I don’t care how old you are to reach a consistent level of form is difficult if you are not doing most things.

“He has been good for us especially in the first two seasons, then he got injured. He can play a number of positions and he is brave and can take the ball even when he is not playing well and that shows balls.

“It has been a disappointing season for him as he has not had the chance to get going.”

Asked whether Buaben has a future at Hearts, Levein added: “I have not had that conversation about who is staying or who is going with anybody yet. I will speak to those people before I make any announcements.”

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