Hearts manager Robbie Neilson opens up on Lawrence Shankland, Jorge Grant, Alex Cochrane, plus Liam Boyce's future & Lewis Neilson compensation

Pre-season footballs are barely out of the cupboard and Robbie Neilson finds himself fielding questions on a myriad of issues at Hearts.

Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 10:30 pm
Updated Friday, 24th June 2022, 11:01 am

Things are fairly relaxed behind the thick walls of Riccarton as the club’s manager speaks about three potential new signings, top goalscorer Liam Boyce’s future and a compensation claim from Dundee United for recent recruit Lewis Neilson.

Players only reported back to the training ground from their summer break on Tuesday. It has been a busy week building up to a training camp in Spain which starts tomorrow.

Alex Cochrane, on loan at Tynecastle Park from Brighton last term, looks like being the next permanent Hearts signing following Alan Forrest, Kye Rowles and Lewis Neilson. The plan is for Jorge Grant to follow from Peterborough United.

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“We are still working away with Brighton so we will hopefully get that [Cochrane signing] over the line, maybe in a few days' time,” said Neilson. “Grant from Peterborough is still a wee bit back and forward but, again, we are quite far down the line with it.

“Both players are desperate to come here, it's just a case of getting this sorted out in the background. These things always take longer than you would hope.”

Brighton only extended 22-year-old Cochrane’s contract earlier this month and Hearts moved quickly to agree a deal for the left-back. “Right from Alex’s first couple of months here, when we saw the type of player he was, how he fitted into the group, the team and the style of play, we were trying to move things forward.

“We have always been in contact. We expected Brighton to extend his contract and the hope was that we could then make a move to get him up here. So far, it has worked out well.”

Robbie Neilson wants more new signings at Hearts.

Grant, 27, is predominantly an attacking midfielder from whom Neilson expects key contributions in the final third of the pitch. “He's got moments in him. First of all, he's got unbelievable set-play delivery,” said the manager.

“Secondly, he's got the moment for the final pass or the final shot. We need more that within the team. We get into good areas, we just need that final moment at times and he has got that.

“I've known Jorge for a number of years from when I was down south. I saw him with different clubs. When he was at Nottingham Forest, I knew Mark Warburton and David Weir, who had him there. He moved to Notts County so I've always had an eye on him.

“He had a great season at Lincoln then went to Peterborough and it probably didn't quite work out the way he wanted it to. That's kind of the market we look at. It was the same with Beni Baningime when he went on loan. It didn't quite work out and we managed to get him. It has worked out well in the past for us.”

Grant can also play as an orthodox central midfielder. “He can flip between the two but I see him more in the No.10, attacking midfield role,” said Neilson. “I think he will bring quality to us. There is still a bit of work to get done but we aren't too far away.”

Lawrence Shankland’s potential move from Beerschot is not quite so advanced. A fee has yet to be agreed and the Belgians haven’t received a formal transfer offer, although Hearts are interested and continue working in the background. “There is nothing, although there has been a lot of talk about it. I think it's this time of year,” stated Neilson.

“There is nothing between the clubs so we'll wait and see. I know Shanks really well but at this moment there is nothing happening. If that changes then we will see, but I don't think it will.”

Reports of interest in Boyce from Aberdeen and Ipswich Town baffled the Tynecastle hierarchy. “The Boycie one was strange. There's been no contact between clubs or anything. Boycie has been our top goalscorer the two years I've been here. I don’t want to lose him and I don’t expect to,” said Neilson.

“I don't know where it’s come from but that's what happens at this time of the season when there's not a lot happening in the transfer market.”

With no other recognised centre-forward in the first-team squad, Neilson simply can’t afford to lose the Northern Irishman right now. “He's my only striker as well. I said that when I spoke to him yesterday.

“I don't know where these things come from but we need to just deal with it. Until actual signings happen, people will make things up about what's going on.

“He's happy and delighted to be here. He's got European football, has been the top goalscorer the last couple of years and played just about every game. He's a big player for us.”

Dundee United’s sporting director Tony Asghar claims Hearts owe them compensation for 19-year-old defender Lewis Neilson, while Tynecastle staff are convinced he is a free signing.

He rejected a contract offer at Tannadice and the dispute surrounds the timing of that proposal and when it was officially lodged. United may escalate the matter to a tribunal.

“We'll wait and see. We're pretty confident about the things that happened and the process of it,” said the Hearts manager. “It's up to United to say what they think about it. We've heard nothing from the SFA about it all so, as far as we're concerned, we've done everything above board.

“I know Lewis from my time at United when he was a young kid. When I was there he was playing as a midfielder. I moved him to centre-half and he's progressed in that position. I think he's got the attributes to be a top centre-half. He's still young and has a lot to learn but he's got a lot of the basics. We're excited to see how he does this pre-season.”

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