CRAIG LEVEIN has revealed that he was considering withdrawing ‘flagging’ Uche Ikpeazu before the towering Englishman emerged as Hearts’ derby day hero.
The 24-year-old was toiling with a slight knee complaint at Easter Road and, following a typically all-action showing up front on his own, Levein was weighing up whether the hulking front-man would last the 90 minutes.
Ikpeazu reassured his gaffer that he could play through the pain barrier and still make an impact – and proved as good as his word when he lashed home the leveller following a cut-back from Steven MacLean.
That cancelled out an own goal by Christophe Berra to secure a 1-1 draw for the Jambos.
“Uche was struggling with his knee, that would have been the reason for taking him off,” explained Levein. “He was flagging.
“But as long as he said he was okay then it was a matter of trying to do something [to help him]. I thought once Steven [MacLean] came on and gave us two strikers it made a difference to Uche as well.
“Some people don’t rate him but he does a good job. He didn’t have his best day today but he kept plugging away, working hard and got his reward.”
Ikpeazu is now adding a prolific streak to his undeniable work ethic and nuisance value, with his pivotal strike on Sunday taking his tally to four goals in his last seven outings; his eighth overall since joining the club from Cambridge last summer.
Levein added: “He has a strong belief in himself, which is important, and he thrives on scoring. He feels he will always be judged on that and it is good for him to get eight goals, having missed more than four months of the season through injury.”
Levein, meanwhile, has revealed that he asked John Souttar what he had done with the real John Souttar at half-time.
The Scotland internationalist was bizarrely out of sorts in the first period, with his ordinarily superb passing absolutely woeful. His errors opened the door to the Hibees on several occasions.
However, he pulled himself together after the break.
“I asked John at half time: ‘have you got John Souttar’s number?’” laughed Levein. “But all credit to him, he came out in the second half and did the basics properly. He was really, really good in the second half.
“That is one thing younger players need to experience. Sometimes you do not feel great when you are playing in big matches and it is easy to succumb to that and feel you are ill or tired and things are happening to you. He learned that today when he started the game poorly and things got worse.
“But he pulled himself together and realised he needs to get back to doing the basics properly. It is another lesson for John and I thought he coped admirably.”