CRAIG LEVEIN is hopeful the sight of Hearts’ physiotherapy room emptying can herald a return to the scintillating form that made the Jambos a force to be reckoned with in the opening weeks of the campaign.

The injury crisis that blighted their campaign between October and December is becoming an increasingly distant memory, with John Souttar set to take his place on the substitute bench against Dundee this evening for the first time since suffering hip damage three months ago.

Uche Ukpeazu, recovering from a freak foot injury, is expected to return to action within a fortnight, while Steven Naismith and Christophe Berra have already made their respective comebacks.

With Levein’s side starting to resemble the one which registered six wins from their opening seven Premiership fixtures at the start of the season to roar to the summit of the table, it is little wonder he is cutting an optimistic figure.

“John (Souttar) will probably come in and sit on the bench against Dundee,” revealed Levein. “He starts a lot of our attacks because when he drives forward with the ball he’s pretty good and choosing his moments and he gives us an overload in midfield.

“His accuracy of passing is fantastic. The annoying thing is he was just getting to his best when he went out with Scotland. It was very frustrating for him in particular.

“We’ve missed them all for various different reasons and I can't wait to get Uche [Ikpeazu] back. He’s been working really really hard and is in great condition. He will be back running next week and playing probably a week after.

“We’re starting to look solid again and with options in the team. I feel good about that side of things and it would be my hope we could get back to the level of consistency we enjoyed earlier in the season.”

Levein’s mood has been further buoyed by the arrivals of David Vanacek and Conor Shaughnessy, with the experienced coach singling the latter out for particular praise after a composed showing on his debut against Livi after joining on loan from Leeds United.

Having endured periods where Hearts have been down to the bare bones this term, Levein is content with how his squad is shaping up ahead of this evening’s test against relegation-haunted Dundee.

“Of the two new guys who made their debuts on Sunday, Conor Shaughnessy had a more accomplished performance than David Vanacek,” continued Levein. “David did well at the goal, had some nice touches – but just looked a little bit off.

“But Conor is fully fit and his been training. David isn’t at that point yet. His match sharpness isn’t at a level where he can perform at his best. He’ll get there, we’re sure. It might just take a level for him to show his best – it might not be on Wednesday either.

“But, in two or three weeks’ time, we’ll see progress.

“If we can get David up to speed as well as Uche and I’ve brought back young Aidan Keena from Dunfermline. He has done excellently there and so we certainly have competition for places which makes my job easier.”

Meanwhile, Jim McIntyre admits he went over the top with his post-match criticism of Dundee's draw with Queen of the South.

The Dens Park boss was left frustrated as his side returned from their winter break to be held to a 1-1 William Hill Scottish Cup draw by the Doonhamers on Saturday.

He claimed the Ladbrokes Championship outfit were the better side before confessing he was relieved to still be in the competition.

But, having seen a number of the Dark Blues' top-flight rivals crash out of the tournament, McIntyre now says he may have been too harsh on his players.

And he believes the first run out of 2019 will do the basement boys good as they look to kick-start their fight for survival away to Hearts tonight.

He said: "We were disappointed with our overall performance but I was probably slightly harsh on the players in terms of my after-match comments, especially when you see how other Premiership teams struggled.

"We hadn't played for a three-week period and there was a bit of sluggishness there, there's no doubt about that.

"But the second-half reaction was a lot better and obviously we had our new goalkeeper Seny Dieng to thank for a couple of good saves.

"Queen of the South are no mugs and when you have someone of Stephen Dobbie's quality and that amount of goals in your side, then he's always going to be a threat.

"I was pleased with how we reacted (in the) second half and it was better from us but yeah, I was slightly harsh on the boys considering we were a bit rusty.

"We go to Tynecastle on Wednesday night and we want to start on a positive note. This is an opportunity to get another 90 minutes under our belt and get back at it."