DAVID Weir gave his backing last night to Ann Budge’s vote of confidence in under-pressure Hearts manager Craig Levein – and tipped Steven Naismith to ride to his rescue in an Edinburgh derby this Sunday which is already somewhat unfairly being dubbed the ‘sack race’.

The Hearts owner issued a strongly worded defence of her former director of football yesterday - despite furious protests from a band of supporters outside Tynecastle following the 3-2 home defeat to Motherwell last weekend.

Weir, a young player coming through the ranks at Tynecastle just as Levein’s playing days were coming to a premature end due to injury, reckons everyone should reserve judgement on the former Scotland manager until 10 or 20 games into the season.

“I read about the Ann Budge statement yesterday – and I thought it was a great statement,” said Weir. “Look at what Ann has done for the club. For her to say they weren’t going to react like other football clubs usually do, just changing manager every time there’s a problem, was great.

“She’s made it clear they have a longer-term plan and they’re going to see it through. Time will tell if that’s the case. We’ve heard all these things before.

“But the way she works is very different. And it was good to hear. Craig is obviously more than a manager there. He’s been there a long time and he’s got a lot of different aspects to what he does. If you bring a manager in, you have to support him and back him, give him time to carry out the plan. She’s not the typical owner and I think it’s refreshing.

“Of course, it can’t go on like this forever with fans protesting and nobody wants that - the fans don’t want to be doing that and Craig certainly doesn’t want it.

But you’d imagine Hearts’ form will turn round because they’ve got better players than what they’ve shown so far after five league games.

“It’s a real small sample size in terms of where they are. The points total isn’t good enough but judge him after 10 or 20 games - which seems a long way away - which is a fairer time to judge him.

“It’s quite complicated at Hearts because of the fans contributing,” he added. “If the fans are protesting, then they start withdrawing their money, that obviously changes things for the ownership.

“That’s what makes it more interesting, the fact that she’s aware of it, that she wants the fans to have an involvement and input in how the club’s run. But, on this occasions, he’s putting her head above the parapet. And that takes guts.

As for Naismith, Weir played with him in both the Glasgow and Liverpool derbies and feels that his former Everton team-mate, set to resume after injury, could be the difference maker as Hearts cross the city to take on the equally-embattled Paul Heckingbottom’s Hibs side at Easter Road.

“Steven will relish Sunday,” said Weir. “He is perfect for it. The players, the fans, the management will all get a big boost from him being available.

“He is a big-game player,” the former defender added. “He enjoys them and will rise to the challenge. He might not be the best player in the game … but you know you will get something from him.

“When we were going into an Old Firm game, if Steven was in the team we were happy,” added Weir. “It will be the same with a Hearts-Hibs game. The players will look around the dressing-room and think about who will help get something from the game. They will see Steven and it will give them a lift.”

Like everyone else who brushed paths with him – and many who didn’t – Weir had words of tribute for Fernando Ricksen, the fallen Rangers legend who was on the bench for Zenit St Petersburg when the Russians got the better of the Europa League final in 2008 in Manchester.

“Although I never shared a dressing room with Fernando, I heard plenty of stories about him!” said Weir. “A lot of people spoke very highly of him, he was obviously a character and a good person. It’s terrible - 43 is no age to die, leaving behind a young family. MND is such a horrible illness but he fact that it was all in the public eye, hopefully some good comes of it in terms of raising money to find a cure.”

** David Weir was speaking at the William Hill Ayr Gold Cup draw. The Gold Cup takes place on Saturday 21st September at 3:50.