BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
HEARTS are sweating over the fitness of star striker Kyle Lafferty ahead of their Betfred Cup decider against Inverness.
The 30-year-old, who notched 19 goals in his maiden campaign for the Jambos last term, was withdrawn after a subdued 54-minute showing in Tuesday night’s 5-0 rout of Cowdenbeath.
He was replaced at the same time against Cove Rangers in his previous outing.
Hearts must defeat the Caley Jags in Gorgie on Sunday to top Group C and secure safe passage to the last-16, nevertheless boss Craig Levein is keen not to aggravate the slight knock ahead of their Premiership opener against Hamilton on August 4.
Levein is expected to make a decision on the front-man’s availability following training at the club’s Riccarton base this morning [Friday].
Should Lafferty fail to win his fitness race, he is likely to be replaced in the starting line-up by the hulking presence of Uche Ikpeazu.
The 23-year-old, a new arrival from Cambridge United, bagged his maiden goal for the Jambos against the Blue Brazil with a stunner from the edge of the box, and is already emerging as a firm fans’ favourite due his work ethic and raw physicality.
And Levein has heaped praise on his ‘unorthodox’ attacking weapon.
He lauded: “Uche is a hugely willing boy. He is just desperate to do well and obviously has his strengths.
“If we can use him in such a way that we get the best from his ability, then he will be a great asset for us.
“He is something different from Kyle [Lafferty] and it is good to have someone that gives us that presence – he is unorthodox at times. It was good that he got his first goal.”