Hearts have choice to make for visit to Rangers

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John Souttar returns to first-team consideration this weekend as Hearts travel to Ibrox looking to put in a performance worthy of leapfrogging the reigning Premiership champions and moving to the top of the standings.

It leaves manager Robbie Neilson with a selection quandary, given the adroit manner in which Taylor Moore deputised in the first-choice defender’s injury absence, helping to safeguard the club’s unbeaten start to the league campaign.

Against Livingston and Motherwell there were two clean sheets to add to the two wins as they kept the pressure on those around them. But, a fit Souttar is not easily usurped.

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“Having John back this season has been a massive bonus for myself,” said defensive partner Craig Halkett, who has experienced injuries as well as on-field lows and highs during their time together at Hearts. “We get on really, really well, on and off the park, so playing alongside him, whether as a back four or back five, we have been pretty settled.

Hearts' John Souttar and Craig Halkett celebrate their Premiership victory over Celtic. Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS GroupHearts' John Souttar and Craig Halkett celebrate their Premiership victory over Celtic. Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group
Hearts' John Souttar and Craig Halkett celebrate their Premiership victory over Celtic. Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group

“It was well documented that over the past couple of years I have played in quite a few different back fours and fives and as much as you want to concentrate on your own performance, sometimes it is quite difficult.

“We have played a good number of games together and the more you do that, the more you know each other's game. Looking back, I was really comfortable in my time at Livingston because the back three we had there, with Declan Gallagher and Alan Lithgow, we played well over 100 games together and knew each other’s games inside out. We knew the weaknesses and strengths and that allows you to complement each other on the park and in what has been a good start to the season you are starting to see that with me, John and Stephen Kingsley.

“I was pleased to see the transfer window close with John still here.”

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He joked that he might have had to hide his colleague away until the deadline had passed but is thankful he did not have to resort to such desperate measures as the club obviously felt the same way, turning down two bids from the English Championship.

As well as his defensive duties, Souttar netted the winner in the opening league match against Celtic and Halkett is hoping to bring that scoring component back to his own game.

Earning a reputation for around seven or eight games a season at Livingston, he reproduced that in his first season at Tynecastle but with just one last term and none so far this season, he is keen to rediscover the scoring touch.

“It is something I have not been happy about – how many goals I have scored in the last year and a bit. It is something I used to pride myself on.

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“It was just one of those things. Obviously, my main job is to try to keep the ball out of our net but scoring is something I like doing. So, yeah, I would be coming home and thinking: ‘What’s going on? Why am I not scoring?’ I honestly couldn’t put my finger on it but it is something I am working on and trying to improve and hopefully I can score a few this year.”

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