Levein explains reasons for not starting a striker in Hearts’ defeat to Killie
Uche Ikpeazu was ruled out through injury.
Craig Levein has explained his decision not to select a recognised striker in his starting line-up as Hearts succumbed to a meek 1-0 defeat to Kilmarnock.
The Jambos were rocked ahead of Saturday’s fixture by the loss of towering frontman Uche Ikpeazu due to a tight hamstring.
Levein also felt that veteran attacker Steven MacLean was unable to start a fourth consecutive game in a fortnight, while he was unwilling to put his faith in Irish youngster Aidan Keena.
Levein would ultimately bring MacLean on at half-time and introduce Keena in the second period, but he initially picked Ryotaro Meshino and Sean Clare, ordinarily creative midfielders, up front.
“I went back and watched Ryo’s [Meshino] games and he has played up front before,” said Levein.
“We were in a position where Steven MacLean is 37 years of age, has played three games in a week and evidence has shown us that when he gets to that level he needs a break. He can help us more when he’s fresh.
“Aidan Keena is untried and untested. I put him on in the end because we wanted another striker on the field.”
Levein admits the loss of Ikpeazu, with two goals in his last four outings, was a major setback ahead of the Killie clash.
However, he is adamant erring on the side of caution was the correct strategy, while confirming that the Englishman will be ready to face Rangers after the international break.
“Losing Uche was a blow,” added Levein. “His hamstring was tight on Thursday.
“And with everything else that’s happened with injuries with [Conor] Washington and [Steven] Naismith being out, if we lose Uche for a period of time then it leaves us with next to nothing.
“So I made the decision on Friday that we’ve got the international break so it gives him time to get himself in top condition for the next match.”
Meanwhile, victorious Kilmarnock manager Angelo Alessio wants to see more from his side in the final third as he seeks to build on their remarkable defensive record.
Chris Burke’s rare header was enough to secure all three points for the watertight Ayrshire outfit at the weekend.
Killie have now won three of their last five Premiership fixtures while – aside from a 3-1 defeat at Celtic a fortnight ago – they have not conceded a goal since George Oakley’s strike in Hamilton’s 2-0 win on August 10.
However, they have only found the net more than once in a match on one occasion in the Premiership this term – and Alessio reckons their next task is to become more potent.
The Italian added: “We were compact defensively but we have to improve going forward. We need to create more chances. We are all pushing to progress in this way.”