Ian Cathro admits the possibility of a lengthy lay-off for John Souttar may force Hearts to step up an already extensive January recruitment drive.
Tynecastle management fear the centre-back may have torn his Achilles after being carried off in the closing stages of yesterday’s 4-0 defeat by Celtic, which would mean a long spell on the sidelines. The 20-year-old’s predicament was expected to become clearer this morning.
Hearts were already looking to add a new central defender prior to yesterday’s events, with Aaron Hughes the only other fully-fit centre-back available to Ian Cathro following the recent departures of Igor Rossi and Alim Ozturk. Krystian Nowak, who arrived as a centre-back, has been nursing a minor injury recently and has been utilised mainly as a midfielder under Cathro.
Hearts are keen to bring back former captain Christophe Berra, but it remains to be seen if he can be prised from Ipswich Town, where he remains a key man and is contracted until the summer.
“[Centre-back] is an area of the park where we needed to add players anyway,” said Cathro. “We’re quite far down the line with a couple of options, but whether [Souttar’s situation] affects things, we just need to wait and see how he is first. It didn’t look nice, so we are concerned.”Hearts brought the number of confirmed January recruits to six on Saturday when they announced the arrival of Stoke City winger Moha El Ouriachi Choulay on loan until the end of the season. The 21-year-old follows Hughes, Lennard Sowah, Andraz Struna, Malaury Martin and Dylan Bikey in checking into Tynecastle this month. Former St Mirren striker Esmael Goncalves, who scored twice in his final game for Anorthosis Famagusta on Saturday, and 31-year-old Greek midfielder Alexandros Tziolis, who has just terminated his contract with PAOK Salonika, are expected to sign for Hearts before the transfer window closes at midnight tomorrow. Cathro is preparing for a busy couple of days.
“We need to add players all across the pitch – you only need to look at the bench against Celtic,” he said. “We’re a little bit light and we know we have a lot of work to do [in the transfer window]. We are doing it and we expect to bring players in over the next few days. We’re working on a couple of things. The guys being mentioned, we are dealing with those situations. Beyond that, we don’t know yet. It’s always possible that things will come up on the last day. We are very aware that we need to bring players in to help the squad and bring more competition. We’re very light at the moment. Look at the team that finished today and what we have available to us on the bench. We have to make sure we end the window with the best balance and the strongest squad we can find.”
Tony Watt, Robbie Muirhead, Ozturk, Rossi and Juanma Delgado have already left Tynecastle this month, but Cathro explained that he doesn’t expect much in the way of departures before close of play tomorrow. “I don’t anticipate many going out the way, no,” he said.
Eyebrows have been raised at the extent of the squad overhaul at Hearts over the past month, considering the group of players already assembled had been competing strongly for a top-three finish in the Premiership. Cathro explained that the influx of new faces has been largely down to a lack of squad depth.
“You’ve got to factor in that initially there wasn’t a massive squad,” he said. “There were some players who had different circumstances, and the right thing was that they moved on, and then you end up with an even smaller squad. We needed to address that. We’ve been trying to do that in each area where we feel the squad needs more players or different types of options. We want to have the right balance in the squad to be able to improve and compete and be the team that we want to be throughout the rest of the season.”
n HEARTS Under-20s face St Johnstone in an SPFL Development League match at Ochilview tonight (kick-off 7.30pm).