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Steven Naismith has been appointed Hearts interim manager for the final seven games of the season.

Naismith takes over following the sacking of Robbie Neilson and the subsequent departure of assistant manager Lee McCulloch.

The former Kilmarnock, Rangers, Everton, Norwich and Hearts forward has been charged with getting the club back into third position in the cinch Premiership after a run of four consecutive league defeats saw them slip below Aberdeen.

Chief executive Andrew McKinlay said in a statement: “I am delighted to say that Steven Naismith has agreed to take over as interim manager until the end of the season.

“Steven has played the game at the highest level possible, and has taken great strides forward in his coaching career with the club’s B team and at international level with Scotland.”

Naismith will be assisted by Gordon Forrest, who moved to Tynecastle from Dundee United with Neilson and McCulloch in the summer of 2020, and former Preston manager Frankie McAvoy, who joined Hearts as academy director in February.

Explaining the reason behind Neilson’s departure in the wake of Saturday’s 2-0 home defeat by St Mirren, McKinlay admitted the Hearts board had been swayed by the importance of securing third spot and the lucrative entry to European group-stage football it brings.

“We had all hoped that things would turn around, sooner rather than later, but results and performances over the past seven weeks have been unacceptable and there is no sugar-coating that,” he said.

“At full-time on Saturday we found ourselves at a crossroads and the board took the extremely difficult decision, after much discussion, to make a managerial change in order to get back on track and refocus our efforts on clinching third place in the league.

“I do not need to remind anyone just how pivotal a figure Robbie Neilson has been in this club’s journey back to the top of Scottish football. His commitment to Hearts has been unwavering, and he deserves every plaudit for guiding us back into the top flight, to two Scottish Cup finals, to third place last season and into group-stage European football.

“Robbie, along with Lee McCulloch, will forever have our gratitude for those achievements, which is why this was such a tough decision to make.

“However, we simply could not ignore the results and performances. The board is here to make difficult decisions and act in the best interests of the club, which is what we feel we have done by making this change at this time.”

McKinlay urged supporters to get behind the team ahead of Saturday’s Edinburgh derby against Hibernian at Easter Road.

“We enter a crucial period of the season, with two games remaining until the split, followed by a further five matches,” he added.

“With what is at stake, it is no exaggeration to say that we are facing seven cup finals.

“We had a taste of group-stage European football this season and have, in many ways, reaped the benefits.

“Our aim has always been to repeat this feat and that target has not changed, despite what has transpired recently.”