Hearts boss concedes fast-tracking Steven Naismith’s return backfired after admitting striker faces further lay-off

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Hearts manager Craig Levein has conceded his attempt to fast-track Steven Naismith back into the side has backfired after admitting the Scotland striker faces a further spell on the sidelines.

Naismith had said in a recent radio interview that he would be fit for tomorrow’s visit of Rangers, having been restricted to only 78 minutes of action this season due to hamstring and calf strains.

His last outing came as a substitute in the August 31 stalemate with Hamilton.

However, past experience has taught Levein to err on the side of caution and the 33-year-old will play no part on Sunday.

Levein believes the muscle injuries afflicting the former Rangers and Everton player stem from his lack of game time owing to two separate knee operations he underwent last term.

Naismith’s recovery was not helped by the player linking up with Scotland for last month’s Euro 2020 qualifiers against Russia and Belgium as he sought a landmark 50th cap.

“I did bring him back maybe a little bit sooner than was needed,” said Levein.

“It is a constant fight when you are sitting looking at players in the stand who could have a big impact on the performance on the field. 

“There is a temptation to try and hurry that process up. 

“He hasn’t played a 90 minutes since February, so essentially there is the problem – he didn’t do pre-season. 

“His body is de-conditioned a little bit. That means there is this gradual process to get him back up to full fitness. 

“I think we’ve jumped to get him back – one, for me to get him back in the team and, two, for his eagerness to play for Scotland. 

“He had muscle injuries when he came back before. Then he went right into the Scotland stuff. He is sitting one cap away from 50 matches for Scotland and getting into the Hall of Fame. 

“To be fair,  I should probably have taken him out of that environment and just kept a hold of him. But he is sitting one cap away.

“So now I’m just being ultra-cautious with him. He is not far away from being involved.”

The return of midfielder Peter Haring from a pelvic complaint for the first time this season and striker Uche Ikpeazu’s recovery from a hamstring strain will bolster an injury-ravaged side against Rangers.

Aaron Hickey, the hugely talented 17-year-old, is expected to again start at left-back amid continuing interest from Manchester City.

Rangers were also linked with the teenager earlier this week.

“I’m not getting involved in any of the talk,” replied Levein after being asked about Hickey. 

“Our primary concern is to secure Aaron on a longer term contract and we are working on that.” 

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