Daniel Stendel reveals Hearts' attempts to sign new defender

Manager seeking cover after John Souttar’s season-ending injury

By Barry Anderson
Monday, 2nd March 2020, 4:40 pm
Updated Monday, 2nd March 2020, 5:18 pm
Hearts manager Daniel Stendel has been looking to sign a new defender
Hearts manager Daniel Stendel has been looking to sign a new defender

Hearts have looked into signing a free-agent defender following John Souttar’s season-ending Achilles injury.

Manager Daniel Stendel and his coaching staff have scoured the market and explored several options to fill his position, with Craig Halkett and Clevid Dikamona the only fit first-team centre-backs at the moment.

Former captain Christophe Berra is on loan to Dundee and cannot be recalled outwith a transfer window.

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The versatile Barnsley loanee Toby Sibbick can operate in central defence but remains sidelined whilst recovering from glandular fever. Right-back Michael Smith can play centrally in an emergency.

Souttar suffered a suspected ruptured Achilles in the Scottish Cup quarter-final win against Rangers on Saturday and is certain to need surgery. That prompted Hearts’ moves to reinforce their back line.

Halkett and Dikamona will form the central defence for Tuesday night’s Edinburgh derby against Hibs at Easter Road. However, Stendel is considering a new signing if he can find the right free agent.

"We have looked but the choice is not so big. It is really worse,” he told the Evening News. “We signed Toby Sibbick as a big option for a lot of positions, especially centre-back, but he has been ill.

“At the moment we have Craig and Clevid, maybe Michael in the worst case, but I hope the other two will stay fit and play together. We need to be really careful with our centre-backs at the moment.”

Dikamona replaced Souttar when injury struck after 16 minutes of Saturday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final win against Rangers. He and Halkett must now continue their partnership to help Hearts’ fight against Premiership relegation.

"It was a good start for Halkett and Dikamona on Saturday but this is a different situation now,” explained Stendel. “In the cup game they looked good but we need to show it more. We need good teamwork in our defensive behaviour and this will also help Clevid and Craig.

“John Souttar is out and Anthony McDonald got an injury in training, so he might not play for a couple of weeks. The other players are fit and ready to play against Hibs.”

The Tynecastle side have not lost on their last three visits to Easter Road, recording two wins and a draw.

Stendel acknowledged that Hearts must stifle the threat of Hibs strikers Christian Doidge and Marc McNulty to achieve a result on Tuesday night. Doidge has 15 goals in his last 21 games, while McNulty has four goals in five appearances.

“I think both players have a lot of quality to score goals. Our big task is to stop them getting many balls to score goals,” said the German.

“Hibs have a good structure from what we can see, they are very stable in their performances for the last couple of weeks. We have a plan and I'm sure we have a good chance to stop this.”