Steven Naismith confident Hearts will cope with Asian Cup absentees

Nathanial Atkinson and Kye Rowes will be part of the Australia squad for the tournament in Qatar.

Steven Naismith confident Hearts will cope with Asian Cup absentees SNS Group

Steven Naismith is confident Hearts will be equipped to deal with the absence of Nathaniel Atkinson and Kye Rowles for at least three games when they head to the Asian Cup with Australia next month.

The Jambos pair have been named in the Socceroos squad for the showpiece in Qatar which starts on 12 January and concludes on 10 February.

Right-back Atkinson and centre-back Rowles – both regular starters for Hearts – are set to miss the Scottish Cup tie at Spartans and home cinch Premiership matches against Dundee and Aberdeen in January, while they could miss further games in February if Australia progress from a group that includes India, Syria and Uzbekistan.

“It’s bittersweet,” said manager Naismith. “It’s brilliant for them, it’s a great competition and it shows we’re progressing players who are consistently getting called up to big tournaments.

“But we’ve known it’s coming, we knew it was something that could happen, so we have prepared for it. It’s not ideal but we’ve prepared for it and I think we’ve got a good enough squad.”

Naismith is intent on bringing in a right-back in January to compete with Atkinson after Odel Offiah’s loan from Brighton was cut short due to the player’s ill health.

“Even before Natty got selected we knew we needed to improve and add to the right-back position,” he said.

“That’s something that’s been going on. It’s been accelerated by the fact Odel has gone back to Brighton. We’ve managed up until now.

“Natty being injured has probably given us a preview of what it’s going to be like (during the Asia Cup) but it’s the one area we do need to make sure we identify the right target and bring them in.”

Beyond a right-back, Naismith insisted Hearts – who host St Mirren on Saturday – have no pressing need to be busy in January.

“Not really,” he said. “I don’t think there’s an urgent need for anybody. It’s more about future-proofing and future development of the squad.

“If there’s the right player and the right profile that we think is worth adding, we’ll add. But I’m not actively going out to bring in three or four players.

“We’ve got a good competitive squad and we want to just add the right mix at the right time to give the players coming in time to settle.”

Naismith feels Hearts’ squad is slightly bloated and said there may be some departures.

“There are players who have not had as many minutes as they want,” he said. “Our squad is probably at the top end of where I ideally want it to be but there’s no need or urgency to push anybody out the door.”

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