Robbie Neilson reveals whether John Souttar will face Rangers as Hearts prepare for influx of returning players

Hearts are poised for an influx of players returning from injury ahead of next weekend’s Scottish Cup final.

Midfielders Andy Halliday, Cammy Devlin and Aaron McEneff, plus defenders John Souttar and Michael Smith are all included in the squad for tonight’s Premiership visit to Motherwell.

Craig Halkett is scheduled to feature in the final league game of the campaign against Rangers at Tynecastle Park on Saturday. Provided no-one suffers any adverse reaction, they should all be available to play Rangers again at Hampden Park seven days later.

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“Tomorrow we’ll have McEneff, Smith, Devlin and Halliday, plus Souttar will be on the bench. He won’t play but he’ll be available for Saturday,” explained the Hearts manager Robbie Neilson. “The hope for Halkett is Saturday, too. Apart from Beni Baningime, they will all be available for some sort of a game on Saturday.”

Neilson added that he would have no qualms fielding Souttar in any of the Rangers fixtures despite the Scotland centre-back having signed a pre-contract agreement to move to Ibrox this summer.

“No. John is a Hearts player and he wants to do well for Hearts. Whenever John plays he’ll give 100 per cent. The carrot for him is the cup final and Scotland in the summer, so he wants to play well and do that.”

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Hearts will hope to give all of the above as many minutes on the pitch as possible, with Neilson underlining the fact that game time breeds confidence for any player following injury.

“They don’t need to prove themselves because they’ve been working hard. It’s more mentally for them to be able to say, ‘I’m ready’,” he explained. “They’ve played some minutes against Motherwell or against Rangers, so they can say ‘I’m ready to go’, as opposed to just rocking up at Hampden.

John Souttar is nearing an injury return for Hearts.John Souttar is nearing an injury return for Hearts.
John Souttar is nearing an injury return for Hearts.

“I’d be more comfortable if they had played the last six games on the bounce, but it’s just the nature of where we are at the moment. We just need to assess them all and see where we are.”

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The manager already has the guts of his starting line-up in mind for the final. League games against Motherwell and Rangers offer a chance to assess.

“I do but I need to factor in who’s been playing, who hasn’t, who’s coming back from injury, fitness levels and all that. So, we’ll get through these two games and then we’ll sit down and make a decision on who is going to start at Hampden.”

Motherwell will pursue points in the quest for a European place tonight, although Neilson pointed out Hearts are not without motivation heading to Fir Park.

“To be honest, I think it’s a big game for us as well. Firstly, we’ve got a number of guys who are desperate to get into the cup final team, so they’re desperate to play.

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“We’ve not won down there for a while now. We got beat there earlier in the season, so we know when we turn up there it’s always tough.

“But we’re confident of going down there, we’ll take a decent crowd, so we need to turn up. We can’t afford to turn up to any game and be 60 per cent or else we’ll get turned over.

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