STEVEN NAISMITH insists Hearts’ miserable winless streak is deceptive as he leapt to the defence of Jambos boss Craig Levein.
The capital club have failed to win any of their last 10 Premiership fixtures stretching back to last season – losing eight of those – to leave Levein facing early scrutiny this term.
However, Naismith reckons vocal critics must consider mitigating factors, such as injuries and the squad rotation ahead of May’s Scottish Cup final reverse agains Celtic.
Naismith said: “As a team, we realise there is pressure because we haven’t won in the league at the start of the season.
“But we have had tough fixtures – and people are looking back to the tail end of last season. I think those results are slightly false as it was the lead up to the Scottish Cup final.
“But the squad has improved over the summer and it’s just a case of getting that first win now.”
There was a collective intake of breath among the Jambos faithful when Naismith was replaced after 45 minutes of Hearts’ 0-0 draw against Ross County earlier this month.
The experienced forward has not featured since, with Levein loath to risk his talisman following the knee surgery which ended his campaign prematurely in February last term.
However, Naismith is expected to return to the fold for the visit of Hamilton.
He continued: “Coming off in the County game was more precautionary. When you’ve had a long lay-off and come back to full training – cramming in a bit of fitness – there’s always a risk.
“You just use your experience, take your time and make sure you are ready for the long haul.
“There is a base level of fitness that I’ve got and I feel good. It’s just about getting matches in the legs but I’m ready to contribute for both Hearts and Scotland.”
Despite playing just 71 minutes of senior football since February, Scotland boss Steve Clarke named Naismith in the squad for the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers against Russia and Belgium.
It is the first time he has been involved since scoring in a 3-1 defeat against Portugal last October.
He told BBC Sportsound: “The new manager has looked back, brought in a few more boys with experience.
“That definitely helps develop the crop of what I believe is the most talented group we’ve had in my time involved.
“A lot of the squad have been there for years now and experienced what is involved – your schedule, the meetings and all the rest of that.
“Now they are pushing on in their club careers. John [McGinn], James Forrest, Ryan Fraser, Kieran [Tierney] has gone down the road to Arsenal, Andy Robertson. The names just reel off. It’s now about bringing that to the national team.
“We have the greatest potential but it’s easy to say that. We need to put the performances in.”