BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
DEMI MITCHELL faces several months on the sidelines after suffering suspected knee cartilage damage during the Jambos’ Scottish Cup victory over Auchinleck Talbot.
It is a second hammer-blow for the capital club emanating from that routine victory over the Juniors, with Michael Smith also ruled out until at least April after scans on Monday confirmed he has torn his thigh muscle.
Mitchell’s setback came as a bolt from the blue for a shell-shocked Craig Levein, who was informed of the injury by club physio Karen Gibson on Tuesday morning.
The 22-year-old will return to parent club Manchester United this week to formally ascertain the severity of the complaint.
However, the initial prognosis is that Mitchell has torn his meniscus tendon – a cruel case of deja vu for the player, who suffered an identical injury to the same knee last February.
“Demi [Mitchell] has a cartilage problem. We suspect that it is a tear and he thinks the same thing – having done it before,” said a deflated Levein.
“He did the same knee and the same lateral meniscus at the tail-end of last season. He got back just before the end of last season but I’ll need to speak to Manchester United now and we’ll find out the extent of it.
“He didn’t remember doing anything [against Auchinleck] to cause the injury but it must have happened during the game.
“He was good at the weekend. He had been suffering from a lack of confidence for a while and had just got that back, so it is unfortunate. I feel really sorry for him.”
Meanwhile, Levein has lamented Smith’s luck as the versatile defender faces up to a spell on the sidelines that will interrupt his impressive progress for club and country.
The 30-year-old has made 34 appearances for the Jambos in a swathe of different positions this term and was recently rewarded for his consistency with a new contract until 2021.
He also featured for Northern Ireland against Israel and Austria last year, taking his tally of caps to four
Smith will miss Hearts’ Scottish Cup quarter-final against Partick Thistle and, should the Jambos progress, would be toiling to make the Hampden semi-final in mid-April. He will also sit out his country’s Euro 2020 qualifiers against Belarus and Estonia next month.
“Mick [Smith] has torn the [thigh] muscle and damaged a bit of the tendon, which is worse,” rued Levein.
“The very best I can hope for is getting him back in six-to-eight weeks. I think eight weeks would be optimistic, in all honesty.
“He has played in just about every match and got into the national team as well. So I feel for him because Northern Ireland
“It happened in a match so there’s nothing you can do about it, you just have to accept it. It was innocuous, it happened to his standing leg and was just to do with the way he twisted after a shot.”
He added: “The medical team here have done brilliantly to get other players back so hopefully we can get Michael back fighting fit for the tail end of the season.”
Levein will call upon Canada internationalist Marcus Godinho to fill the void left by Smith, while youngster Jamie Brandon will provide another option when he is deemed fully fit following his own serious cruciate ligament injury.
“We have Marcus and Jamie back and they have both played and played well in the past,” added Levein, who takes his side to face Motherwell on Sunday. “I have been pleased with Marcus when he has played so I have no complaints there.
“Jamie has been out for quite a period of time and I don’t think he has played a reserve game yet. So he might take another two or three weeks to be right.”