Hearts boss Robbie Neilson responds to Craig Levein's John Souttar comments in wake of Rangers bid

Robbie Neilson has questioned why Craig Levein felt the need to share his suspicions over the injury to John Souttar that prevented the player appearing in Hearts’ Scottish Cup win over Auchinleck Talbot on Saturday.

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson.
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson.

The centre-half has signed a pre-contract deal with Rangers and could yet leave Tynecastle by next week if a suitable offer is tabled by the Ibrox club.

But in the meantime Neilson stressed that Souttar remains very much a Hearts player.

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The manager was troubled by Hearts’ former director of football’s suggestion that Souttar was only left out of the game in Ayrshire to avoid being cup-tied in the event of the defender joining Rangers before the end of the current transfer window.

Former Hearts manager Craig Levein.

Asked while on Radio Scotland's Sportsound programme whether he believed there was truth in the ankle injury reason given by Neilson for Souttar’s absence, Levein replied: “Probably not.”

Neilson has confirmed Souttar is back in his squad for Wednesday’s home Premiership clash against Celtic. The manager feels very comfortable about playing him again providing there are no further complications with the ankle knock.

“Everyone has an opinion on different things, but, at the end of the day, the boy has an injury,” Neilson said. “I can't really be any clearer than that so I’m not sure why he (Levein) would say that.

“We have everyone back training apart from Taylor Moore, who has a small thigh problem,” he added. “We almost have a full squad to pick from including John, who still has a slight issue with his ankle. But I still expect him to be ready for Wednesday.”

John Souttar returned to Hearts training on Monday.

Neilson revealed there had been no contact from Rangers, who are expected to need to bid around £600,000 to prise the player from Hearts now.

“There’s been nothing else,” said Neilson. “I don’t think it will be a distraction. We have got a massive game on Wednesday and we have another one on Saturday (v Motherwell).

“So from our perspective there is no distraction. John is a Hearts player. He will continue to be a Hearts player until things change.”

Souttar was the target for some booing from home fans at Tynecastle against St Johnstone last midweek when he played his first game since news emerged of his pre-contract agreement with Rangers.

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