STEVEN NAISMITH faces a race against time to be fit for Hearts’ Premiership encounter against Motherwell.
The 32-year-old did not feature in either of Scotland’s Euro 2020 defeats against Russia and Belgium due to a tight hamstring which the medical staff were wary of aggravating.
Naismith returned to club duty yesterday but was not risked in full training with the rest of the Jambos’ first-team squad.
Hearts’ doctors intend to monitor Naismith’s progress over the next 48 hours but have not given up hope of their attacking talisman playing some part against the Steelmen on Saturday, even if only as a substitute.
The former Rangers and Kilmarnock forward, who recently recovered from serious knee surgery, has made three appearances this term, most recently as a late replacement for Andy Irving in Hearts’ miserable 2-2 draw against Hamilton.
The absence of Naismith would be a major blow for Craig Levein as pressure mounts on the Tynecastle boss following an underwhelming start to the league campaign.
Meanwhile, Hearts coach Andy Kirk has hailed ‘outstanding’ teenager Irving as the classy midfielder cements his place as a first-team regular.
Ex-Jambos front-man Kirk, now reserve team chief at Tynecastle, has played a major part in Irving’s progress and reckons he has come of age this term.
Following loan stints at Berwick and Falkirk, Irving has made six senior appearances for Hearts and scored his maiden goal for the club against Dundee United in July.
Kirk lauded: “All young players have different paths and sometimes you need a loan or maybe two loans before the maturity levels kick in.
“The loan [at Falkirk] really helped Andy last year, he came back a stronger character and his performances of late have been outstanding. He is unbelievable with the ball; his range of passing, his touch, his vision.
“His confidence and belief have risen now that he knows he can compete at this level. That’s a big part of it as well.
“Every player develops at different times and I feel like Andy is starting to come together as more of a package, whereas last season he was maybe lacking a little bit here or there.”
However, the former Northern Ireland international has warned Irving that the road only gets tougher from here.
“No, that’s where the hard work STARTS. Hearts are a club where they will be pushed to continually improve.”