Hearts manager Jim Jefferies is set to search for a like-for-like replacement for Kevin Kyle after admitting the striker's injury absence has hampered his side's bid to wrap up third place in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League.
Kyle has been out since January 11 after problems diagnosing his injury and has undergone hip surgery after an earlier double hernia operation. Jefferies admitted the striker's absence has been a blow which has contributed to Hearts' advantage in third place being cut from 15 points to eight with six games remaining.
Speaking ahead of Saturday's match at Inverness, Jefferies said: "If we had Kevin Kyle fit, along with everybody else, I think we would have had it all tied up weeks ago. He's been a big miss and we don't have another player like that. We might have to look at our options in the summer just in case he doesn't play every game next year."
The Hearts boss may look to recruit a target man similar to Kyle in the summer to enhance options at Tynecastle. Kyle is expected to miss the start of next season and Hearts' early Europa League fixtures, if they qualify.
Jefferies will wait until Hearts' finishing position in the SPL is confirmed before finalising plans for next season.
He said: "Nothing will be discussed with any player under contract or wanting a new contract or in plans until we get third place tied up. We've had tentative discussions with the owners but nothing will be decided or discussed until we get third place tied up."
Jefferies knows Hearts will be expected to improve on their display this season, which saw them challenging title-chasing Celtic and Rangers earlier in the campaign. And he is confident he can retain players and enhance his squad to match expectations.
He added: "Hopefully the ones we want to keep we can keep and if we want to try and improve the squad we'll try and do that. I'm not bothered whether I get cash or not. Cash would be nice, but if it's not there it doesn't stop us bringing in players."
Sealing third place and a Europa League qualifying place would help Jefferies' recruitment drive. Dundee United manager Peter Houston has continually reiterated Hearts will not be caught in third place and Jefferies believes it would be a failure not to finish best of the rest behind the Old Firm.
He said: "They know they have to keep winning so if we do slip up they can take advantage. What we've got to do is forget about them, go into the next game and try to win it. We've just got to concentrate on ourselves - it's in our own hands."