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Hearts in mouths again as forward is sidelined for six weeks

HEARTS supporters might well not be reading this.

It would perhaps be understandable were any to have elected to keep their eyes shut until the season comes to an end, given the battery of bad news which has been aimed at them over the past few months. There was something positive to chew over yesterday, too, but typically this was followed by a story which was as welcome as a stomach upset. And just as sickening.

This can be articulated in just nine words but demands further comment. Ryan Stevenson has been ruled out for six weeks; the Hearts forward has suffered a tear to a hamstring and the results of a scan on Tuesday have led club physios to prescribe rest. The 29-year-old has been an effective performer for the Tynecastle side this season and his absence leaves a void which is made more cavernous since there are only 14 recognised outfield players left in the first-team squad. Hearts face Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Saturday.

It is the first fixture of an exacting festive run for Hearts that comprises nine matches in just six weeks. The Edinburgh club have already asked Danny Wilson to play on despite the defender suffering from shin splints and the squad has been denied relief following the disappointing results of Stevenson's scan.

"We had a niggling feeling that it was something serious and that was confirmed when the results came back," said Gary Locke, the Hearts manager. "It's a shame for Ryan as he's not long returned from [knee ligament damage]. One good thing though is that the lad is a quick healer, so hopefully he gets a bit of rest and we can manage his return."

Some of the pressure on Locke has at least been released following confirmation that he will not need to sell players in next month's transfer window. It had been though that some of the club's more effective, and sellable, players might be moved out by administrators BDO to secure funds - Jason Holt, Adam King and Stevenson have all been linked with moves away this season - but Locke has been told that there is no pressure to do so.

There is one player known well to Hearts fans who has been moved on, though, with Andrew Driver having been released by Houston Dynamo. The former Tynecastle winger had joined the Major League Soccer side permanently in the summer but his contract has not been renewed for the next campaign.

Driver made 26 appearances and also helped take Houston to the semi-finals of the MLS Cup and has already been linked with a move to England, with Sky Bet Championship side Burnley understood to be interested. "There are three players whose options we declined - Cam Weaver, Andrew Driver and Mike Chabala," read a Houston statement yesterday.

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