Craig Levein hails Scottish Cup influence of Steven Naismith as Hearts edge closer to deal with Scotland striker


STEVEN NAISMITH may have been restricted to a frustrating watching brief at Hampden, but Craig Levein is adamant the invaluable guidance of the experienced attacker helped to ensure Hearts booked their Scottish Cup date with destiny.

The 32-year-old is currently rehabilitating from a knee operation he underwent in February, with the timeframe of his recovery affording him a tantalising opportunity to return in time for the May 25 showpiece against Celtic.

However, he has remained an integral part of the Jambos dressing room during his absence and that was no different in the build up to Saturday’s semi-final triumph over Inverness.

Naismith stayed at the Hearts team hotel in Glasgow last Friday night, offering advice to teammates and consciously seeking to settle the nerves and focus the minds of national stadium novices.

And Levein, who watched his side sweep the Caley Jags aside 3-0, believes that is a mark of the man.

“Naisy was great [in the semi-final]. He came and stayed overnight in the hotel and I saw him sitting and speaking to seven or eight different players over the course of the evening and the next morning,” said Levein.

“He’s got a lot of experience that he can pass on. We had a few people that hadn’t been to Hampden. He does it so willingly, I don’t need to say to him: ‘you must go and speak to this guy’. He just does it. He wants to help and is a really good team-mate.

“He does that for us every day. You see him sitting looking at videos with some of the young players or chatting to people in the corridor. In time, I believe he would be a really good manager.”

Indeed, Levein refused to rule out including a coaching aspect to the permanent contract that he is growing increasingly confident that Naismith will sign.

Hearts remain locked in discussions with the player’s representatives with a view to tempting him back to Gorgie when his deal with his parent club, Norwich City, expires this summer and, while a cumbersome process, Levein is heartened by the progress being made.

“There are quite a lot of things to talk about,” he continued. “It is normal that things go back and forward. A lot of times I will then need to go back and speak to Ann [Budge] about them, which is another meeting.

“It seems to go on for a lengthy period of time, but I do feel like we are making progress.”

Levein, meanwhile, has vowed not to rush Naismith – a player with a lamentable history of serious injuries to both knees – back to action regardless of the carrot of the Scottish Cup final.

He added: “When it comes to dealing with knees and the major joints, you have to be careful. He has had a couple of operations on his meniscus now so we don’t want to cause any further damage. If he can make the final, it will be because he is ready.”

Aidan Keena and Callumn Morrison ruled out for the season

Two players who will most definitely not make the Scottish Cup final with the Hoops are Aidan Keena and Callumn Morrison, after Levein revealed that the duo have been ruled out for the rest of the season with eerily similar knee injuries.

It is a hammer-blow for the promising pair, who would both have been part of Hearts’ plans for the run-in. Keena started the semi-final win over Inverness, while Morrison has made 36 appearances this season.

“Callumn [Morrison] and Aidan Keena both picked up cartilage injuries last week,” revealed Levein. “They are both due to go for operations this week and will not play again this season.

“I feel for both of them. They are young lads who had opportunities. Callumn has taken his opportunity quite well. His performances have maybe tailed off a bit recently but he was good earlier in the season.

“Aidan looked like he was going to be round about things on the bench, maybe getting some game time in the last five or six games, but that is now knocked on the head.”