BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
CRAIG LEVEIN concedes that Hearts’ opponents are being given encouragement before a ball is kicked courtesy of the sizeable injury list at Tynecastle.
The Jambos, who started the season with six Premiership victories from their opening seven matches, are enduring their first inauspicious run of results after failing to register a victory in any of their last four outings.
Levein admits it is impossible not to acknowledge the damage done by serious injuries to Steven Naismith, Uche Ikpeazu, John Souttar and Christophe Berra – and has warned that they may not recapture their previous form until they get some key bodies back.
“With such high profile players, I can’t not talk about it,” said Levein. “It’s not just their play we are missing, it’s their influence on the team. Until we can get everybody back, I don’t know if we’re going to reach the heights we were at previously.
“It’s also the other teams looking at our line-up and seeing Naismith, Souttar, Christophe and big Uche missing. Once those players come back, we’ll get two things. We’ll get the football benefit and we’ll also get the benefit of other teams thinking ‘uh-oh, we’ve got a tough game today’.
“I assume other managers are the same as me. When you look at the opposition team sheet and see four or five players missing – guys you know to be their main players – I usually feel quite good about that.
“But the challenge for all of us is to keep picking up points in the meantime.”
One major positive during Hearts’ injury crisis has been Jimmy Dunne, with young centre-back displaying laudable poise and maturity to fill the sizeable void left by the sidelined Souttar and Berra.
The performances of the 21-year-old, on loan from Burnley until January, earned him a maiden call-up for the Republic of Ireland during the recent international break and Levein has revealed that Turf Moor boss Sean Dyche is open to Dunne remaining in Edinburgh for the entire campaign.
“I’ve spoken to Sean at Burnley and we’re going to speak again in January,” added Levein. “In principle we felt it was quite a good idea for him to stay here. I’ll look into that more when we are past these games and leading up to the winter break.”
Levein, meanwhile, has played down the prospect of signing former PSG youngster Killian Colombie making an immediate impact, should they decide to offer him a deal.
The 23-year-old French winger, who is currently plying his trade with Iona College Gaels in the U.S., has linked up with Andy Kirk’s reserve side in a bid to win a contract at Tynecastle.
“Killian is just a young lad who came in from one of the clubs we know in America,” added Levein. “He played in a bounce game and did okay but he’s not immediate first-team material.”