Hearts manager Craig Levein admits striker Steven Naismith is losing his battle to be fit for the Scottish Cup final.

The on-loan Norwich City player underwent a second knee operation within five months at the start of March and has not played since going off at the break in the February 27 defeat to Celtic.

Levein initially admitted that he was ‘fairly certain’ that the Scotland internationalist would play again this term after revealing that the damage to the knee wasn’t as bad as first feared.

But Levein is now facing up to the prospect of being without the influential marksman, who has scored 14 goals for the Gorgie outfit this term, for the remaining two games of the Premiership season and the May 25 Hampden showdown with Celtic.

Levein said: “I don’t think Steven will be ready for the final. 

“That’s my take on it. He isn’t back in full training yet. 

HeraldScotland: Steven Naismith has not played since the defeat to Celtic in FebruarySteven Naismith has not played since the defeat to Celtic in February

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“He isn’t even back doing running yet. He is coming on well and he is improving, but I don’t see him being ready, unfortunately.”

Levein admits the fact that Naismith is set to become a permanent Hearts player next season after spending the past 18 months on loan is also another reason not to fast-track his comeback.

Levein added: “We are getting close to getting this deal done. If Steven was only going to be our player until the end of the season, then I’d be pushing him to play. 

“If we’re giving him a new contract, I want to make sure he is right for next season.

“We have done a lot of business already for next season and I feel really good about it. 

“Areas where we have lacked quality this year, I can address in the summer. 

“What I don’t want to do is have Naismith starting the season with a problem so I’m going to be very careful with that.”

Levein was given another injury scare at the weekend when striker Uche Ikpeazu was forced off in the defeat to Kilmarnock with a hamstring strain.

While the towering forward may not be fit for the remaining two matches away to Aberdeen and the Hoops, Levein is hopefully Ikpeazu will be available for the Hampden clash.