Interim Hearts coach Jon Daly insists Jamie Walker is focused and ready to start against Rangers having overcome the uncertainty over his future.
Daly revealed that the winger’s performance in training has vastly improved and, consequently, he is a strong contender to play at Ibrox on Saturday.
Rangers had transfer bids for Walker rejected by Hearts last month but are expected to return with another offer before the signing deadline in two weeks’ time.
Their interest led to coaching staff leaving the 24-year-old out of matches against Dunfermline and Celtic in recent weeks, claiming he was not in the right frame of mind.
Walker, whose Hearts contract expires next summer, returned to the squad last Saturday at Kilmarnock but was an unused substitute in his club’s 1-0 win. Daly has monitored him closely at Riccarton this week and has no fears over selecting him against the club coveting his signature.
“No fear, not at all. In the last couple of days, Jamie’s training levels have gone up again so he’s definitely in contention for a starting spot,” Daly told the Evening News.
“If that continues then he’s got a chance. He’s a top player and we’d be delighted to have him at the club for as long as we possibly can. He gives you the opportunity to win games with his quality.
“I’d imagine he’ll work as hard as he can if he plays because he’s a Hearts player and he has to do his best for the club. I’m sure that’s the mindset he would have. We spoke about the transfer rumours unsettling him but I think he’s got past that now. He’s fully focused again.
“Whether he plays against Rangers or anyone else, it doesn’t matter. There will be more than just Rangers interested in signing Jamie Walker.”
Daly praised the player for his response after being told he was not reaching the required standards in training or matches. “It’s great that he’s taken on board what we’ve said to him,” explained the Irishman.
“There’s no doubt he’s one of the best players at the club. On his day, he can win a game of football out of practically nothing. To have a player like that back focused and playing to the levels we know he can produce gives us more firepower and more options going to Ibrox.”
Hearts travel to Glasgow hoping to emulate their Capital rivals Hibs, who beat Rangers 3-2 there last weekend. Daly stressed that result should imbue his own players with belief.
“I think it gives the lads a level of confidence that they can go there and get a result,” he said. “Obviously Rangers will want to bounce back from a home defeat, but we have to look at it as an opportunity to get a positive result ourselves to build on our win last week.”
Coaching staff at Riccarton have studied video footage of the Hibs-Rangers match.
“We’ve watched the Hibs game but after 30 minutes it’s kind of irrelevant because of the red card [for Ryan Jack],” said Daly.
“We saw the whole game but we’re focusing our analysis on the first 30 minutes when it’s 11 men against 11. We’ve tried to identify the areas we feel we can get at Rangers and where we have to be wary of them.
“We’re working on that just now so we’ll make sure the lads are ready to go and know what we’re after come Saturday.”