Hearts dealt injury blow ahead of Rangers clash with Beni Baningime ru…

Hearts dealt injury blow ahead of Rangers clash with Beni Baningime ru…

HEARTS midfielder Beni Baningime has been ruled out of Sunday’s visit of Rangers – and is facing a race against time to be fit for the New Year derby clash with Hibs.

The former Everton playmaker was stretchered off in the drying stages of the November 27 victory over St Mirren with a knee problem.

Manager Robbie Neilson claimed after that game that the injury looked worse than it was but the 23-year-old could nevertheless end up spending over a month on the sidelines.

At a push, Hearts have penciled in the December 29 match against St Johnstone.

The Gorgie outfit confront a trip to Easter Road five days later and Neilson admits he cannot be certain when Baningime will return.

The absence of the Congolese is a major blow with Baningime having shone since arriving from Goodison Park during the summer.

Neilson said: “Beni is nevertheless going to be another few weeks.

“The aim is to get him back for the game before the derby if we can but I’m not sure if we’ll get him or not.

“Initially we thought he would be all right but the injury hasn’t settled down the way we wanted. 

“We are trying for the St Johnstone game on December 29 if we can.

“He has opened his knee up a bit so we won’t risk him because he is too important for us. Peter Haring came on and did okay for us last weekend so we have options in the midfield area.”

Neilson, however, is hoping top scorer Liam Boyce and wing-back Michael Smith will both be obtainable for the weekend’s televised lunch-time showdown against Rangers.

Boyce, who has only just recently returned from a calf strain, was forced off during last Sunday’s victory at Livingston with a hamstring complaint, while Smith had to be substituted with a back issue at the Tony Macaroni Arena.

Neilson additional: “Boycie has trained. He did complete training on Wednesday with no problems at all.

“He felt his hamstring tighten on Sunday and he’s had calf problems recently in addition but he’s fine.

“Michael Smith nevertheless hasn’t trained but we are expecting him to do a wee bit on Friday, then complete training on Saturday. 

“I think they should both be okay. Michael has had a associate of back spasms recently along with a associate of other lads but hopefully he is fine.”

Assistant manager Gordon Forrest is expected to be in the dugout on Sunday after spending a period in isolation but fellow number two Lee McCulloch is not due back to work until next week.

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