THE possible return of Steven Naismith to the Hearts line-up tonight against St Johnstone will be a welcome sight for all Jambos, but Gary Locke is hoping that their own answer to former Hibs playmaker Russell Latapy can take the pressure off the Scotland attacker.

Locke sees similarities between Latapy’s playing style and that of Ryo Meshino, who has impressed since arriving at Tynecastle on loan from Manchester City.

Locke is hoping that the Japanese attacker can alleviate some of the creative burden from Naismith’s shoulders, and also ensure that the drop-off in Hearts’ fortunes when Naismith isn’t available is not quite so severe.

“He’s been fantastic since he came in,” Locke said. “He reminds me a wee bit of Russell Latapy when he was at Hibs, he plays in that kind of number 10 position.

“Latapy for me was a terrific player for Hibs, and I certainly see things that suggest wee Ryo can be the same for us.

“He plays in a position were it is difficult to pick him up, and when he gets the ball on the half-turn and he’s facing you, he’s very creative.

“If we can get him on the ball at Hampden [in Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final], I’m sure he’ll cause Rangers a lot of problems.

“(Alexei) Eremenko was similar too, he had fantastic ability. He wasn’t blessed with blistering pace, but he had such a great football brain and could see things on the pitch that others couldn’t see.

“Wee Ryo has certainly got similar qualities in that he is very creative, and the most important thing for us is to make sure we get him on the ball.

“It was a difficult game for him on Saturday, because it was more of a scrap on the tight pitch at Livingston, and the astroturf didn’t really help him. On the bigger pitch at Hampden, hopefully he can see more of the ball.

“He can go either way, he’s not frightened to go and try to beat people, and his goal against Rangers was a fantastic finish.

“He’s settled in now, he’s trying to learn English, his family have been over as well which would have helped him.

“We’ve certainly seen glimpses that he’s going to be a terrific player for us, and it was a major coup getting him having just signed for Manchester City.

“In the games I’ve seen so far, he’s only going to get better, and he’s a pivotal player for us.”

Locke is optimistic that Hearts can upset the odds this weekend against Rangers at Hampden to make the Betfred Cup final despite a hugely underwhelming start to the season overall.

He puts the underperformance of the team down to the injuries suffered by key personnel, and as that situation eases, he expects their fortunes to improve.

“Like all Hearts fans, I would just love to see all these players on the pitch at the same time,” he said.

“Craig (Levein) will be the same, when you look at the amount of influential players we’ve got missing at the minute, he must be looking forward to the next couple of weeks.

“We should have Jamie Walker, Peter Haring, Steven Naismith, Uche Ikpeazu and Ryo Meshino on the pitch at the same time, because there’s no doubt that when we get all of these players back, our results should pick up.

“Everyone knows how pivotal Steven Naismith is for us, because we are like a different team with him in there.

“Craig will be looking at these next two games, and particularly the semi-final, because if we can get a result in that it could kick-start our season.

“We just played Rangers a week ago at Tynecastle there and for the first 20 minutes we were far and away the better team.

“We didn’t give Rangers a minute, we started on the front foot, and it will probably be very much the same again.

“I know it’s different at Hampden, it’s a bigger pitch than Tynecastle, but we have got legs about the team so there shouldn’t be any reason for us to go to Hampden and change it tactically.

“It certainly worked for us when we played Rangers last time out.”