John Souttar back in full Hearts training as club give injury updates on Michael Smith and Steven Naismith
John Souttar has resumed full training with Hearts after more than a year out through injury.
The Scotland defender rejoined team-mates for sessions at Riccarton this week and could make a long-awaited return before the season ends.
Hearts coaching staff will let Souttar decide when he feels ready to don a maroon shirt again following back-to-back Achilles injuries.
He first ruptured his Achilles in January 2017 and then suffered the injury in the other heel in February last year. The tendon he injured 13 months ago snapped again back in August, effectively ruling the player out for the season.
“John’s back in full training which is brilliant to see. We'll be pushing in the next couple of weeks to hopefully get him back up to full speed,” explained manager Robbie Neilson
“The main plan was to get him back for pre-season. The likelihood is that we can get him back a bit earlier but the timescale will be based on how John feels. At this moment in time he's doing really well and he'll keep pushing forward.
“It's not just John who is buzzing but the coaching staff and everyone at the club. When I first came in [last June] John was just finishing his rehab to get back and then broke down, which was devastating. Now he's fit, coming back and feeling stronger than he did the last time.
“Lockdown hindered him. He got his operation then a day or two later we went into lockdown so he couldn't do hands-on rehab, just himself in the house. This time, he's done a full rehab and you can definitely see the difference.”
Further positive news comes with right-back Michael Smith expected to be fit to face Dundee this Saturday. He trained on Thursday after a calf issue, but Steven Naismith remains doubtful with a similar problem.
“Mick trained yesterday so he'll be fine. Steven we're still waiting on. We'll probably make a decision on Saturday whether he starts or is on the bench,” said Neilson.
Although questions have been asked about Neilson’s future after three successive 1-1 draws, the manager continues working towards next season. His team are 12 points ahead in the Championship table.
Hearts owner Ann Budge admitted finances will be tighter this summer due to the Covid 19 impact but the club will still strengthen their squad.
With £1.5m in extra funding each year from fans via Foundation of Hearts, and benefactors donating £3m per year, Hearts are in a stronger position than most Scottish clubs.
“The financial backing of the Foundation is unbelievable, it keeps us afloat and moving forward. The money from James Anderson is similar. We need it,” remarked Neilson.
“We're still planning to bring players in this summer to make sure that we strengthen – hopefully for the top flight.”
Asked if he was surprised seeing Budge questioned about his future this week, Neilson replied with a smile: “I'm just pleased that we’re 12 points ahead and not ten.
“It's the way football is and you just have to take it on the chin sometimes. People ask questions. We're off the back of six undefeated – three wins and three draws. It's not been the best of periods but we've picked up a number of points and are sitting in a good position.”