Hearts boss Levein hopes Naismith makes swift return

Craig Levein is keeping his fingers crossed that Steven Naismith has not played his last game for Hearts.

The Scotland forward will undergo surgery for the second time in five months after damaging knee cartilage against Celtic last week and faces up to 10 weeks out.

The 32-year-old has now returned to parent club Norwich as he prepares for his treatment – leaving the Jambos faithful fearing he might not be back as he weighs up a potential summer move to Major League Soccer.

Naismith was forced off at half-time against the Hoops and the worst-case scenario would see the former Kilmarnock, Rangers and Everton star ruled out of the remainder of the Ladbrokes Premiership campaign.

However, Levein is hopeful Naismith – who is out of contract at Carrow Road at the end of the season but had a deal from Hearts on the table – will be seen pulling on a maroon kit in time for the Tynecastle side’s run-in.

The Gorgie boss said: “Steven goes for an op on Monday. It’s unfortunate but it is what it is.

“He’s to get a little bit shaved off his cartilage again. What was he the last time, eight to 10 weeks? So something similar again.

“Will we see him again before the end of the season? Yep, hope so. He came back really quickly the last time so I’m hopeful it will be the same again.

“We’ve made Steven a contract offer. He was taking his time with a decision. His main thought now is getting back fit. That’s his primary aim at the moment.”

Naismith has already sat out the best part of two months this campaign after undergoing surgery on a previous knee injury.

That lay-off coincided with a nightmare spell of casualties that also robbed Levein of skipper Christophe Berra, John Souttar and Uche Ikpeazu at a time when Hearts were top of the table and looking to mount a surprise title bid.

Without their key men, the Jambos suffered a swift slide down the standings and now find themselves sitting fifth ahead of Saturday’s clash at Dundee.

Levein is convinced there will be no repeat this time but admits that will not lessen the pain felt by Naismith as he faces up to missing out on some huge games for both club and country.

Hearts can book a William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final slot when they take on Partick Thistle in a replay next Tuesday but Naismith will play no part.

He was also expected to be named in Alex McLeish’s Scotland squad for this month’s Euro 2020 qualifiers against Kazakhstan and San Marino.

“When Steven was out previously we had a shortage of strikers,” said Levein. “But now we’ve got Craig Wighton back fully fit after his ankle problem, while we’ve got David Vanecek and Uche fit too, so it is a different situation altogether.

“I don’t feel quite as anxious about the situation now as I did back when Uche was out. That made things more difficult.

“I feel for Steven more than anyone else. He wanted to be involved on Monday against Partick. We’ve got a replay and there are other big games ahead.

“He’s also sitting on 49 caps, one away from his 50th. He’s a player who’s generation have missed getting to major finals and there is a chance for Scotland to get to one of those, so I feel sorry that he’s going through this again.

“He worked ever so hard to get back the last time and this has now happened again.”