The Tynecastle side have maneuvered themselves into prime position as the best of the rest in the Premiership, behind Rangers and Celtic, but manager Neilson knows that the mid-season exit of any of his star players would undermine their ability to maintain that status, which is why hanging onto their prize assets is worth more that a miserly transfer fee.
“I’m confident [we can hold onto our best players beyond January]. We’ve obviously got a number of players out of contract – but we’re not in a situation where we need to sell them.
“I’ve had a chat with Joe [Savage, Hearts’ sporting director] and the board. And we know that, unless somebody comes in willing to pay really big money for somebody, they’ll stay here until the end of the season.
“The objective this season is to get into Europe and that, financially, is worth a lot of money to the club – certainly enough to outweigh any mediocre bid we’re going to get for a player.
“It’s good to be reassured on that front. We’ve got the Foundation [of Hearts] here, we’ve got a strong board and financially we’re in a good position, so we don’t need to sell.
“The important thing from the football side is we’re sitting in that European position right now. We need to be there at the end of the season to get the financial rewards from that, so we can build again. So, it’s really important we don’t let anyone go for low bids.”
In their first term back in the top flight, Souttar has been back on form after a succession of injuries interrupted previous seasons and left him worrying that his career could be over. But now the player who joined the capital outfit from Dundee United for £120,000 in 2016, is in pre-contract talks with a handful of clubs south of the border, including promotion-chasing Championship sides Blackburn Rovers, Stoke and Middlesbrough. Nottingham Forest are also said to be interested in the Scotland defender, along with Rangers and Celtic.
But, he has not been the only one impressing Neilson this term, who is able to reflect on the first half of the season with a level of contentment.
“We have a good team here but you never really know until you come up. You can look at your team and think you are comfortable here or there but it is a big jump [from Championship to Premiership] and doing it consistently, week in, week out. Thankfully, the players we’ve brought in have added to it and it is up to me and Joe to add more.
“We are sitting five points clear in third place and if you had offered us that at the start of the season, we would have taken that. There have been games where we could've done better, games we could have picked up points, but all in all it has been a decent start to the season. The key now is keeping hold of good players and adding a few more.”