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Steven Naismith is hoping Barrie McKay can banish his injury frustration and get back to top form after the Hearts playmaker made his latest return to action in the 1-1 home draw with Kilmarnock.

The 29-year-old has endured three separate lay-offs this term and his encouraging late cameo as a substitute on Saturday represented a first appearance in three months since he limped off with a knee problem in the 1-0 win at Hibernian in late December.

It was only McKay’s eighth outing of a heavily-disrupted campaign.

“It has definitely been a frustrating season for him, he’s felt it,” said manager Naismith.

“He’s definitely shown that he’s frustrated. In the moments he was on (against Kilmarnock), you could see his intelligence and his quality.

“As the weeks go on, he’s only going to get better. We need to get him minutes, and get him involved because he’s a real threat for us.”

Another positive for Hearts, on a day when Kenneth Vargas’ early header was cancelled out by Marley Watkins’ stunning second-half equaliser, was the performance of 18-year-old midfielder Macaulay Tait in his first senior start.

“He’s a real quality player,” said Naismith. “You could look at his stature and think ‘Killie, a physical team, is he going to be able to handle it?’ But he’s robust, he’s happy to go into a tackle, he puts his body in when he needs to.

“But then he’s got a calmness beyond his years. He’s happy to take the ball under pressure and he doesn’t panic.

“It was a really good performance from him individually but it’s not a surprise to me.”

The draw was enough for Killie to guarantee their place in the top six and manager Derek McInnes has challenged them to go on and secure fourth place.

“Seven games to go, we’re not going to be kicking back and giving ourselves a pat on the back,” he said.

“Once you’re in the top six, you’ve got an opportunity. There is maybe an extra European place if Aberdeen don’t win the Scottish Cup.

“We’re in fourth place at the minute and we need to do all we can to hold on to that.

“There are some good teams coming from behind to try and challenge that and test us and we have to be ready for that. If we can finish fourth it would be truly a huge effort from everybody.”

Killie may have to see out the campaign without captain Kyle Vassell, who has been battling through a groin issue.

“I thought he led the line brilliantly, especially in the second half,” McInnes said of the influential striker’s Tynecastle display.

“He can play, he can do a bit of everything but above all he’s a strong leader of the team. He’s galvanised the dressing room and is key for us.

“He’s struggling with a groin complaint that might need surgery so we might need to nurse him along.

“It might need a operation and he might need to come out of the firing line before the end of the season so we can get him ready for next season.”