Hearts want a new centre-back for next season to fill the void left by Brad McKay.
Head coach Robbie Neilson and director of football Craig Levein have shortlisted defenders in England and abroad to replace McKay, who signed a pre-contract with St Johnstone last month.
Alim Ozturk and Danny Wilson are Neilson’s first-choice pairing, with 18-year-old Jordan McGhee the only recognised back-up for next year. English centre-back Jake Hutchings, 19, could be a long-term option but remains and under-20 player. Neilson explained that he has prioritised a new centre-back and is already actively pursuing targets for the position.
“It’s definitely something we need to look at,” he said today. “Obviously Brad is moving up to St Johnstone so it’s a position where we need players. It’s something we’ve looked at and we’re in the process of trying to get somebody recruited.
“I want as good a player as I can get for the budget. It doesn’t matter where they come from, as long as they’re a good character, a good player and within our budget. We need to look at both a Championship budget and a Premiership budget for next year. If we make it and go up into the Premiership, there are players I’ve earmarked that I’d like to try and get in. If we don’t, there are also players who would do us for next season as well.”
Neilson, pictured left, does not plan to look around the Scottish leagues for any new recruits, however. “It’s difficult to get players out of Scottish clubs,” he continued. “Look at the money Charlie Telfer went for from Rangers to Dundee United [£204,000 training compensation].
“There are a lot of players out of contract in Scotland but not ones I think are going to vastly improve what we’ve got here. I think we’ve got a really good squad and somebody might come out of contract in Scotland that we’d go for, but at the moment the majority of the focus is on England and abroad because I think you get better value for money.”
Hearts head to Stark’s Park this evening for the first of two games in five days which could take them to within touching distance of the Scottish Championship title. Victory tonight against Raith Rovers and at Falkirk on Saturday could be enough if Hibs and Rangers were to draw at Easter Road on Sunday.
Hearts are again without Ghanaian midfielder Prince Buaben tonight due to a bruised toe. Dale Carrick (hamstring) is the only other absentee. “Buaben will miss out but he should be ready for Saturday. He’s still got a problem with his toe. He should start training with us on Thursday so could get an opportunity to play on Saturday,” said Neilson.
n HEARTS are in action in the SPFL Development League tomorrow against Dundee. The match kicks off at 2pm at Station Park, Forfar.