Young Hearts winger Billy King joined Rangers last night in a surprise move to strengthen the Ibrox side for the Championship title run-in.
The loan deal for the 21-year-old came out of the blue and he will go straight into the Rangers squad for their league match against Falkirk tomorrow.
The Edinburgh-born forward was an integral part of the Tynecastle squad which overcame Rangers in the chase for last season’s Championship title but has had limited opportunities to impress this term. With Hearts strengthening in the summer, the added competition for places has seen him struggle for regular first-team football.
After making his Hearts debut against Dundee in January 2013, he has played more than 90 games and scored 14 goals, nine of them last season. King has also been capped five times for Scotland under-21s.
Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson has decided that a loan spell until the end of the season could benefit King in the long term and the player passed a medical at Murray Park last night.
Neilson said: “Billy’s at a stage where he’s looking for regular game time, and that’s not something that we can guarantee at the moment. We’re fortunate to be in the position where we’ve got an abundance of options on the wing. Sam Nicholson and Jamie Walker – who’s almost at full fitness – are two of the best young players in the country and are being pushed all the way by Arnaud Djoum and Prince Buaben.
Billy’s looking for regular game time, and that’s not something we can guaranteeRobbie Neilson
“The emergence of Dario Zanatta has given us even more options in there, so it makes sense for Billy to go out on loan to continue his development. He’ll get a run in a team that is pushing for a title, so it will benefit him in the short term and Hearts in the long run, when he comes back an even more confident player.”
King’s displays last season earned him a two-year contract extension but, speaking before the team’s trip to face Hamilton Accies last weekend, King revealed he had been frustrated by his lack of opportunities this season. He said: “It’s been disappointing considering how much I played last season. It’s difficult. There’s times where I’ve come on and, in my opinion, I’ve done well, so it’s been difficult sitting on the sidelines. I’ve just needed to be patient.”
Hearts are still hopeful of adding to their squad before the transfer window shuts on Monday and are understood to be considering a move for Dundee’s 18-year-old striker Craig Wighton, who has spent most of the season on loan at Raith Rovers. The Tynecastle club are also pondering an increased offer for Dundee United’s John Souttar.