Hearts boss Neilson concedes Souttar’s form has made it increasingly difficult to keep defender

HEARTS manager Robbie Neilson has conceded that John Souttar’s outstanding form has made it increasingly difficult for the club to keep hold of the Scotland defender.

The 25-year-old, whose career has been plagued by three ruptured Achilles injuries, marked his national team recall with a goal and man of the match display in Monday’s 2-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Denmark.

At club level, Souttar has also shone, helping Hearts cement third place in the Premiership after 13 games.

While delighted with Souttar’s output on the pitch, Neilson is also well aware that consistent performances at club level and exposure on the international scene will hinder his attempts to retain the centre-half, whose deal expires next summer.

With the January window just around the corner, it has already been claimed that some nine English Championship clubs and Rangers are also interested in the former Dundee United player.

After welcoming back Souttar and Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon to their Oriam training base yesterday, Neilson, whose side travel to Motherwell tomorrow, was asked whether Souttar’s contribution on Monday made it even harder to retain his services.

He replied: “The better the team does, and the higher up the league they are, it’s harder to keep all the players.  

“It’s just part of football and something you have to accept.

“We’re speaking to him. There are a number of players we’re speaking to but that’s the way football is. It goes back and forward, back and forwards. 

“Joe Savage (sporting director) is still dealing with it, still trying to see if we can get some sort of agreement on it.”

Asked if Hearts could sell Souttar in January, Neilson said: “It depends what the fee is to be honest with you. 

“At this moment in time, he’s a Hearts player and we’re still trying to get him to continue to be a Hearts player. 

“We’ll see where it goes. My job is just to make sure he’s ready for Saturday.” 

Souttar’s own personal story – having only just returned to action in April after suffering his third Achilles tear  – enhanced the feel good factor surrounding Scotland at Hampden.

Neilson was there to watch him score.

He added: “It just shows you, keep fighting to come back. Three Achilles and he’s managed to get back to probably as good as he’s ever been. 

“Scoring against Denmark at Hampden in front of a full house – it doesn’t get much better than that. 

“He’s a good player. I still think there is a lot more to come from John. 

“When I was here previously, he was a young kid, but he was still a top player. 

“When I look at him, I think there is more in there. We’re pleased with him but it’s back to Fir Park on Saturday. 

“To be honest, I didn’t realise it was him that scored. I was at the game and it wasn’t until a couple of minutes later that I realised. I’m just delighted for John because he’s had a hard couple of years.”

Neilson was also pleased there was a significant Hearts’ influence on Monday’s game, with goalkeeper Craig Gordon, who became the club’s most capped player whilst playing at Tynecastle, also starting.

He added: “It shows we’re doing well, I think it’s been a number of years since we had a couple of players in the team. 

“They are two guys that were pretty influential on the game as well but we need to try and get more in there. 

“There are a few that could get in or back in it so they just need to keep doing well.

“I think we should have international players in the majority of the positions, that’s where we need to get and slowly but surely we’re getting there.”

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