John Souttar backed to force his way into Scotland squad

Robbie Neilson says John Souttar, above, has improved since joining Hearts

Robbie Neilson says John Souttar, above, has improved since joining Hearts

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ROBBIE NEILSON expects Hearts defender John Souttar to force his way into the Scotland squad by the end of the season.

Provided the 20-year-old maintains consistency at club level over the coming months, Neilson believes he will be impossible to ignore.

National coach Gordon Strachan has named a 28-man squad for upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Lithuania and Slovakia. Despite being omitted from the Scotland Under-21 squad, Souttar is considered not yet ready for senior international football.

Neilson is confident he will earn his first cap in the near future. Scotland are short of young centre-backs with the potential to reach international level, whilst Souttar’s displays for Hearts this season have rightly drawn praise.

The club’s head coach today challenged the player to take that final step after representing his country at under-17, under-19 and under-21 level. “He has improved massively in the time he’s been here, through his hard work and his determination to do well. I think he’ll get into that Scotland squad eventually,” Neilson said.

“When it happens is entirely up to Gordon Strachan. He makes the decision, he picks the squad and there are a lot of good players out there. Souttar has been playing really well so far this season. If he can do that for the whole season, then he can really force his way into that Scotland squad. If he can get a full season as a Hearts centre-half, playing well, then it helps his credentials for getting into the national team.”

Hearts paid Dundee United £120,000 for Souttar seven months ago because they saw raw potential in the Aberdeen-born defender. “We knew he was a top talent,” continued Neilson. “I think he had a difficult period at Dundee United as a young kid in a team struggling down at the bottom of the league. He was getting moved about position, from right-back to left-back and into midfield.

“We knew he had real quality. He’s got good pace, good technique and he’s a good defender. He still has a few things that will need polished up on but if he can do that then his attitude will get him a long way in the game.”

Souttar was forced off after 30 minutes of Hearts’ draw with Ross County last weekend but is expected to play against Motherwell at Fir Park tomorrow night.

“He got a knock on his thigh on Saturday but he’ll be fine for Motherwell,” said Neilson. “We don’t have any injury issues at all. We had a couple of knocks but they were just contact knocks so all the players will be fine for the game tomorrow.

“It’s important we try and get a result before the international break. We’ve played well in the last couple of games but not got the results we wanted. It’s important we start getting points again and get ourselves back up into that second place. We want to push as high as we can towards Celtic.

“Tomorrow’s game is huge for us. As I said, we want a good result going into the international break, but three points for us would also put pressure on other teams before they play on Saturday.”