Craig Levein trying to ensure Hearts have strongest side available for cup final

Craig Levein plans to wrap his key Hearts players in cotton wool before unleashing them for one last big push against Celtic at Hampden.

The Jambos take on the Hoops in the William Hill Scottish Cup final on May 25 and Levein is determined to ensure he has his strongest side available.

Before that, the Gorgie outfit still have Friday night’s trip to Pittodrie and the cup final dress rehearsal at Celtic Park on the last day of the Ladbrokes Premiership season to come.

But Levein is not willing to take any risks with his top stars, even if it means players such as powerhouse striker Uche Ikpeazu and midfielder Peter Haring do not appear again until his side walk out at the national stadium.

“I’ll make some changes over the next couple of games for sure,” said Levein. “There are some people who need matches and others who could do with a break.

“That’s the challenge working back the way from the game at Hampden.

“What’s encouraging for me is that when it comes to the cup final, I believe we’ve got one more big performance in us and that’s what we’re looking for.

“Looking at us sporadically over the last wee while, we’ve picked up a few results when we needed to. We haven’t been at our best recently but I do believe we can pull out a performance when needed.

“If I can make sure everybody who I feel can help us on that particular day is fit and available, then that will give us the best chance possible.

“For some it may mean playing more over the next two matches and for others it could be playing one or even none of those last two league games.”

Hearts have failed to win 10 of their last 14 games and the frustrated Tynecastle faithful’s patience is starting to wear thin.

Levein knows a win against Derek McInnes’ Aberdeen this week would ease the pressure but he is willing to sacrifice building up momentum to ensure there are no repeats of this season’s injury setbacks.

He said: “I’d like to be in great form going into the final but if we’re not, I’m not particularly concerned about that.

“We’ve proved we can raise our game for particular matches and that’s what we’ll need to do.

“If that is the case then it’s incumbent on me we get as many players fit and available so selection can be from a wide band.”

Ikpeazu damaged a hamstring last week against Kilmarnock while Haring has been dealing with a troublesome groin complaint for some time.

But Levein is confident both will be on the bus to Hampden.

The Scot, who confirmed Steven Naismith’s cup final hopes are over, said: “Uche’s better. He won’t make Friday so the plan would be that he plays in the first Celtic game. If he doesn’t, then we’ll keep him for the final.

“Peter is improving but won’t play on Friday either. He’s not outside running yet, that starts next week, so it depends how he reacts whether we play him in the two games against Celtic or just the final.”

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