Beni Baningime still has Hearts role despite injury agony as Robbie Neilson reveals John Souttar return timeline

Aaron McEneff insists joyful Jambo Beni Baningime still has a role to play as Hearts chase third spot and Scottish Cup glory – despite the body blow of being ruled out for nine months.

Baningime this week received the devastating news he had damaged his ACL in the win over Livingston a fortnight ago and will not play again until deep into next season.

The midfielder had been a massive part of Hearts’ charge to third and, with an Edinburgh derby semi-final just two weeks away, he would have been integral to a pivotal stage in the campaign.

But McEneff has revealed the ex-Everton playmaker, despite his shocking luck, has continued to keep the dressing room smiling.

And the Irishman says everyone will be ensuring the 23-year-old remains fully involved in their final push.

He said: “We’re a really tight group, they’re a great bunch of fellas and all stick together.

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“If you want to be successful, you need a good group of people before a good group of players. And we definitely have that within the changing room.

“We’ll definitely stick together, no matter who it is, and get behind each other.

“I’m gutted for Beni. I’m quite close with him. When it happened I didn’t realize how severe it was going to be.

“I texted him a few days later – after he had found out – so I’m gutted, as are the rest of the boys, because he’s a great guy. He’s still been in about the place smiling.

“He’s got a great mentality, so I’ve got no doubt he’ll come back really strong whenever that is. He’s just a happy person. He comes in every day with a smile on his face and, to be honest, his mood hasn’t changed too much. I don’t think it will change.

“He’s a level-headed guy and he’s got a lot of respect within the changing room. We’re all behind him and I’m sure he’ll get back from this injury.

“He will play football again, he knows that. As long as he’s in and around the group to keep his spirits high, I’m sure he’ll be all right.”

While gutted for his team-mate, McEneff could end up being one of the beneficiaries of the extra space in midfield entering a massive month.

He said: “We know what is sitting in front of us. We know what targets we set at the start of the season and what we want to achieve.

“The group have done brilliantly all season. Now it’s the business end of the season and it’s time for us to step up as a team, grab things by the scruff of the neck and get what we want to achieve.

“I fully expected, when we got promoted last year, that we would compete in the top flight.

“I didn’t sign for the club to come over and be in and around the bottom, or maybe hoping to stay up. I knew the magnitude of the club and the ambition of where they wanted to get back to. I’m not too surprised, to be honest.”

John Souttar remains out for the Jambos today and boss Robbie Neilson said: “We’re still hopeful we can get John back before the end of the season.

“Whether we get him back for the derbies. we’re unsure.”

And on Baningime the boss added: “Beni is a popular character. It’s about keeping him motivated. It’s a conversation we have with a lot of the injured boys. To be there is important, just that presence.

“I didn’t think it would be so bad. He walked off the park after it happened. And the following day when I spoke to him he said he was feeling quite good, quite strong. So it was a blow when we heard.

“We just need to get him back in good condition.

“He is in good spirits. The first couple of days were quite difficult for him, he went back down south and came back up. He’s got his head round it now. You can look at it negatively or use it as a positive – in the grand scheme of things he will miss six weeks of this season and four months of the following season before the World Cup break.

“We are expecting to have him back with us and fully fit after the World Cup break.

“He comes into training, goes into the gym to do some work. He will come to games. If he needs time down south he will get that.”

Hearts face Ross County this afternoon knowing third place is all but secure. But Neilson is demanding another three points to keep the momentum building towards the derby double header in league and cup.

He said: “Whether it’s the first or the 31st game we need to win football matches. We had a good start and middle of the season but we now need to kick on and finish it well.

“We’ve managed to get a few back in over the international break. I’d have liked them all back but this is part of the game.

“We don’t have a big squad but we have a lot of quality in it so the 11 that go out at Ross County I would expect to do well.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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