Robbie Neilson ponders starting Hearts’ Dauda for derby

Abiola Dauda
Abiola Dauda
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Abiola Dauda will bring pace, power and a goal threat to Hearts as Robbie Neilson ponders starting the Nigerian in Sunday’s Scottish Cup tie with Hibs.

The head coach believes signing Dauda on loan from Vitesse Arnhem is “just what we need” ahead of Osman Sow’s proposed move to China. Sow is due back in Edinburgh in the next 24 hours having held talks and had a medical in Beijing for a £1m-plus move to Henan Jianye.

The Swede is eligible to face Hibs, but Neilson must decide whether to play him from the start or throw Dauda into a hostile debut. The African offers speed, physical strength and an eye for goal, according to the manager.

Hearts pursued him for a month before agreeing a five-month loan on transfer deadline day. Neilson is keen to see him in a maroon shirt and may decide to use him as an unknown quantity against Hibs.

“I think he’s just what we need. He’s quick, powerful and he’s a good finisher,” Neilson told the Evening News.

“He’s got good experience and he’s played at Red Star Belgrade. That’s a hard team to play for, believe me, with the intensity of the fans there. He’s scored goals for Vitesse in the Eredivisie and his stats from his game time are good. He’s found it difficult to start regularly because of the players they have. He’s got pace and power and he’ll bring a 
maturity to our team.

“His name was put to us before the window opened up. We made contact and did a lot of work with Vitesse. Then they changed their manager about three or four weeks ago, so that changed the situation. Abiola then stayed and thought he was going to get an opportunity. He didn’t start at the weekend when he hoped he would, which gave him the push to try and get out.

“We had a couple of issues with it because Vitesse were thinking of keeping him as they had some injuries. Finally, we got him out. I got the phonecall on Sunday and we managed to get him over so I was really pleased. We were working on some other things as well that we probably would’ve got over the line quicker but he was the main one for me.”

John Souttar’s transfer from Dundee United was only confirmed minutes before the transfer window shut. Neilson revealed he would have gone back in for the teenager this summer if the deal had fallen through. Long-term, he believes Hearts can develop Souttar into a commanding centre-back.

“We would definitely have gone back in for him because I was really keen to get him,” said Neilson. “I think he’s got all the attributes to be a very good player. He’s found it difficult at Dundee United because he’s been played at right-back, left-back, centre-half, centre midfield, attacking midfield and right midfield. I see him as a centre-back, I think he’s got the height for that.”

The arrival of former Wigan midfielder Don Cowie as a free agent adds vital experience, according to Neilson.

“I spoke to a number of people about him. I spoke to Gary Caldwell [Wigan manager] and he talked really highly of Don. He’s got loads of experience, he’s played in the Premier League in England and he’s played for Scotland. I think he’ll be a real asset for us in midfield.”

Meanwhile, Jordan McGhee has been reassured he will be involved against Hibs despite seeing a loan move to Middlesbrough collapse on deadline day.

“We were bringing John Souttar in and Jordan felt he wanted to go and experience England,” explained Neilson. “It was an opportunity for him to go down there on loan and try it to see what he thinks, then come back in the summer. It didn’t work out because Middlesbrough couldn’t get it processed on time.

“Jordan is still a big part of the squad and I still think he’s going to be a top player. In the long run, I think it will be good for him to stay with us for an extended period. Players always want to go down to England. That’s something we want them to have as well.

“He just has to keep his head down and keep working. He’ll get game time at Hearts, definitely, because I think he’s a good player. He’ll be involved in the derby on Sunday, which is a great game to play in.”