Hearts head coach Ian Cathro is adamant Northern Ireland international Aaron Hughes’ continued injury woes will not alter his plan to offer the veteran defender a new deal.
The 37-year-old Cookstown native enjoyed a fine start to his Tynecastle career after joining the club in January, making eight appearances and cutting a composed figure in the centre of defence before suffering a calf injury.
Hughes has not played since the Scottish Cup exit to Hibs in February, despite the knock only being initially expected to keep the player out for a matter of weeks. Although his condition has improved, he will not face Partick Thistle tomorrow.
But Cathro has no fears about the Northern Ireland international’s long-term fitness and intends to keep him.
“We are looking into keeping him for next season and the injury doesn’t have any bearing on that,” confirmed Cathro. “It’s not an injury that’s going to cause a concern long term. It’s just about getting to the point where it’s fully recovered and once it’s dealt with properly there’s no threat of it causing him any issues in the longer term.
“It’s been a frustrating one, for Aaron [pictured] and for us. It’s just one of those injuries where you get a couple of setbacks, not necessarily from anything he is doing or because of his body – it’s just in a bit of an awkward place.
“We are pretty much certain we’ll have him back in the team before the end of the season. We just need to make sure that we get it right.
“He is really important to the game plan and what we’ve been trying to do here. The player he is and the man he is, he transmits a comfort to the players. He’s one of the guys who came here to be a bit of a message carrier for me. He was a very important signing.
Cathro, who confirmed that Prince Buaben and Lennard Sowah have returned to full fitness this week, reckons the pedigree of the former Fulham, Newcastle and Aston Villa ace remains – and will continue to be – pivotal within the squad. “I’ve got no doubt at all that having Aaron in the team helps,” continued Cathro.
“It helps the team and it helps players around him. We miss his influence but these are things that happen over the course of a season. “He’s one of the older players that we have and it’s important that we have those characters – and maybe bring some more to make sure that we have the right strength, experience and leadership for the group.”