BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
HEARTS are weighing up whether to accept a two-game suspension for striker Steven MacLean that would sensationally rule him out of Wednesday’s Edinburgh derby against Hibs.
The Scottish FA issued a notice of complaint to the Jambos veteran after footage showed him grabbing the privates of Celtic midfielder Eboue Kouassi during Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final at Murrayfield.
Match referee Willie Collum and his assistants missed the incident, but Compliance Officer Clare Whyte pored over footage before forwarding the case to an independent panel of three former referees, who concluded unanimously that MacLean had a case to answer.
Should Hearts choose to accept the punishment before the 3 p.m. deadline on Wednesday, the suspension will take effect immediately and MacLean will sit out the visit of Hibs and the subsequent rematch with Celtic on Saturday.
If Hearts choose to contest the charge, then MacLean will be free to face Neil Lennon’s men and the case will go to a disciplinary hearing at Hampden on Thursday.
Jambos boss Craig Levein admitted yesterday that he has spoken to MacLean regarding his conduct – while conceding that he struggled to keep a straight face.
Levein said: “We’ve had a chat, although I can’t without laughing! I think he knows he can’t do that.
“Steven just seems to like doing it – he says he’s been doing it for years! I did have a wee chuckle.”
While there is uncertainty surrounding whether MacLean will line up in Gorgie tonight, one man who has definitively been ruled out is top-scorer Steven Naismith, who will require an operation to cure a knee cartilage tear sustained in that 3-0 defeat against the Hoops.
Following serious injuries to John Souttar, Christophe Berra and Uche Ikpeazu, the Jambos have now lost four key players – and massive personalities – to long-term set-backs.
“Naisy looks like he’s got a cartilage tear so will need an operation,” Levein explained. “It’s a bit more complicated than usual because he’s a Norwich player, so we need to send him back down there for an assessment but I’m pretty sure he’ll go under the knife in the next few days.
“Christophe [Berra] pulled his hamstring off the bone and I’d never heard of that happening before. John Souttar now has an incredibly unusual [hip] injury and, in all my time in football, I’ve never heard of Uche Ikpeazu’s injury [a rare fracture to the foot] before.
“It’s quite remarkable and there’s nothing we can do about it. They are happening in games.
“If this was last season and we’d lost all these players I’d be pulling my hair out because we just couldn’t get any momentum and these would have been bigger problems than what they are this season.
“I feel really good about this squad and the people. I feel comfortable and I’m confident we can cope – but I don’t want any more injuries because it’s starting to annoy me a little bit!”
Levein, meanwhile, admits Hearts have a burning desire to redress the balance of power in the capital.
“They were better than us last season and there’s no point in saying anything else,” continued Levein. “One of the motivations in the summer was to get ourselves back ahead in these matches.
“The aim was to finish as high up the table and try and get European football and, if we do that, then as a consequence we should be in front of Hibs.
“Having a connection and an understanding of what this fixture is about is one of the things I feel is crucial for coming in. Our supporters put such great store in winning these games and it’s important the players know that.”