Robbie Neilson says John Souttar is not on brink of joining Rangers this month

The 25-year-old Hearts centre-back last week agreed a pre-contract with the Ibrox club.

By Press Association Published: 22 January 2022 - 3.41pm

Robbie Neilson insists defender John Souttar is not on the brink of joining Rangers this month despite the Hearts centre-back being left out of Saturday’s 5-0 Scottish Cup fourth-round victory away to Auchinleck Talbot.

The 25-year-old last week agreed a pre-contract with the Ibrox club, and the cinch Premiership leaders have now initiated a move to try and land the centre-back in the current transfer window.

Hearts have rebuffed their first bid, but are open to letting Souttar move west if Rangers significantly increase their offer. However, Neilson insists the Scotland defender was troubled by his ankle and not left out of the match at Beechwood Park because of his transfer situation.

He said: “We’ve had a bid in, which has been knocked out the ballpark, so we will wait and see if anything else comes in.

“We value John very, very highly and if anyone is going to take him in this window, they are going to need to pay for him because we are aiming for the Scottish Cup and European football and we need to keep our best players.

“John had a problem with his ankle after the game the other night. I know everybody thinks it is to do with what is happening, but it was on his Achilles and we felt there was no point in bringing him down here.

“I know everyone will be looking more into it after what has happened but that’s the truth. He will be in the squad for Wednesday (against Celtic), unless things change.”

Hearts eased to victory in Souttar’s absence, with Liam Boyce scoring a double and Andy Halliday, Peter Haring and Alex Cochrane also on target.

The scoreline could have been more emphatic if the match officials had not wrongly ruled out two first-half Boyce goals for offside while also denying the Tynecastle side a stonewall penalty after Talbot defender Craig McCracken punched the ball in his own box.

Neilson was able to make light of the errant decision-making.

He said: “I think the officials will be taking a couple of panadol and having an early night. Thankfully, it didn’t have a bearing on the game.

“We didn’t let it get to us and it shows what a strong team we have here. We want to try and get as far as we can in this competition and I spoke to them before the game about how you have to get over different challenges.”

Talbot manager Tommy Sloan was disappointed his West of Scotland League side failed to make more of a fight of it.

He said: “I thought we were a wee bit disjointed in the first half and the body language wasn’t great, for me, but there was a better spirit about us in the second half.

“We were playing against top-class players, and it showed. I was a wee bit disappointed we got beat 5-0 and not one of my players got booked. I’d rather we were a wee bit more aggressive.”

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