Craig Levein insists Hearts are only five miles into marathon season

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Hearts manager Craig Levein believes endurance is the key for Premiership title success after insisting that his side are only five miles into a marathon.

The early top-flight leaders can extend their lead over reigning champions Celtic to six points with victory over Dundee in tonight’s rearranged clash at Dens Park.

Hearts then lock horns with the Bhoys in Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final at Murrayfield and will attempt to end the double treble winner’s complete dominance of domestic honours.

But the holy grail remains taking the chequered flag in the league – something Hearts have not done since 1960 – and Levein insists being the early pace setters after nine games means little.

He said: “It’s a test of endurance. It’s like the marathon and after five miles we are in front. There are a lot of people who are in front after fives miles of a marathon who haven’t won.

“There’s the quality of your players and your strength in depth.

“It will be about the team that has the best players and if they lose players they can bring in players who are equal in quality, or there’s not a big drop.

“That’s been Celtic in the last few seasons because they have the best players and good players to come in as back up. They have still have that. But we are in a better place than we have been in for a while.

“What’s important for me is we keep going game by game and keep working really hard and that strength in depth will help when we get a further boost in January when (Teplice striker) David Vanecek joins us and also we are getting other players back.”

Levein’s squad is being tested by a series of significant injury set-backs to captain Christophe Berra, John Souttar and Uche Ikpeazu.

But having recruited some 18 new players during the summer, Levein is confident they can cope.

He added: “We are a better team this year, we were lacking in certain areas last season.

“We did not have that strength in depth, that competition that keeps people on their toes.

“We are a better team because we have better players and we have more competition for places.”

Dunne

Meanwhile, Levein, who turned 54 yesterday, admits he is keen to extend centre-half Jimmy Dunne’s loan spell from Burnley beyond January.

The 21-year-old has not put a foot wrong since being brought in as Berra’s replacement in August.

Levein, who admitted he was keen to have a free midweek ahead of the semi-final, added: “I’ve had conversations with Jimmy but I need to speak to Burnley.

“Jimmy has been great. He is low maintenance and just wants to do well and tries his hardest in every match.

“You think that would be obvious but it is not always the case. He just wants to play and improve.”

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