HEARTS manager Craig Levein insists striker Kyle Lafferty will remain at Tynecastle after the closure of the transfer window unless the club receive an offer they can’t refuse.

Speculation regarding the Northern Ireland internationalist’s long-term future persists ahead of the tomorrow evening’s signing deadline.

Levein has already said that he is unaware of any interest from English Championship side Sunderland in the 30-year-old, who is six months into a two-year contract having joined from Norwich City last summer.

The former Scotland manager is still keen to recruit another striker and midfielder this month and with forwards Isma Goncalves and Cole Stockton having departed the club in the last week, Levein is not keen to see his attacking options diminish further.

Asked if he expected Lafferty to remain at the club, Levein, who revealed Hearts more than doubled their money in selling Goncalves, a £170,000 arrival last January, to Uzbekistani side Pakhtakor Tashkent, said: “Unless somebody comes in with an offer that we can’t refuse, which is the same for every other player on the books.

"We have lost Isma and we have released Cole so we are toiling for strikers.

“I’m trying to get one in so I’m not in a hurry to get one out.

“I had heard the rumour but I haven’t heard a thing from anyone about Sunderland. “But you know how it works, if somebody comes in at the last minute, I will s**t myself.”

One of Lafferty’s 11 goals came in last month’s memorable 4-0 victory over Celtic at Tynecastle and Levein believes the towering former Rangers player will relish a trip to Parkhead.

Levein added: “He does tend to like this match. He is a big-game player. I thought he was really good the last time we played Celtic.”

Levein is considering freshening up his team ahead of their fourth outing in ten days, meaning fans could have to wait to see January recruit Steven Naismith and Lafferty link-up in attack.

He added: “The way things have worked, Steven and Kyle haven’t been on the pitch together.

“Up to this point, I have chopped and changed a fair bit.

“I have been trying to get the fittest and most energetic team on the pitch without any thought about the next match.

“It has just been about that particular game. I have things to think about. “Demetri Mitchell has played three games in a week for the first time in his life at this intensity. Steven is one I’m concerned about. He has not played a a lot of football.

“He has gone from nothing to three high-intensity games in a short period of time. And this would probably be the highest intensity of the lot.”

While Hearts remain the only Scottish team to have inflicted defeat on Celtic, Levein believes Premiership managers now have a greater understanding of how to cause the Hoops problems.

Levein added: “They are still the best team in the league by a fair margin.

“They have the best players and the biggest budget. “I think managers are looking at it and saying: 'Okay, lets put it to one side that they’ve spent the most money and you’ve got the best players, how do we compete?'

"Partick Thistle did a decent job and Hibs have done a good job against them, Rangers too.

“Managers are looking at them and trying to work out what’s the best approach.

“There are a lot of really good managers in this league so they’re going to try and find ways of winning.

“I think it does take time to work out what’s the best thing to do is, to get to know their players and their system and how they’re going to approach the match

- and to try and come up with something that can give you a chance of winning the game.”