Hearts centre-back John Souttar looks to be a major doubt to face Celtic at Parkhead on Wednesday night.
The Scotland international missed Hearts’ 1-0 win at Falkirk with an ankle knock on Saturday night. Jambos boss Daniel Stendel stated his belief that he may have missed the game due to playing too much football since a five-month absence with an injury to the same ankle.
Souttar had played all five of Hearts’ matches since the winter break. His most recent outing before the break was all the way back on the opening day of the season at Aberdeen (Transfermarkt).
And going by Daniel Stendel’s words, it looks likely that he’s going to miss the Celtic game too. Speaking in the Edinburgh Evening News, the Hearts boss had this to say on his centre-back:
“We are doing everything so he can play. Wednesday is the goal but, if he cannot play Wednesday and he can play Saturday, then Saturday is the bigger game for us at the moment.
“He was injured for five months with his ankle and he played five games in two weeks. That is a lot of pressure on his ankle. I think it was a reaction after so many games. Normally, I think he can play in the next week.”
Hearts likely to be cautious here
There are so many reasons as to why Souttar should sit out the game at Celtic Park, the top one being the fact that it could seriously do him more damage if he’s feeling more pain in the ankle.
A trip to Parkhead is the most high-intensity exercise for any Premiership defence. It’s not as though Souttar is being eased back in against a lower-league team. Stendel is spot on to highlight Saturday’s game against Hamilton as being a bigger contest considering both are rivaling each other to avoid relegation.
In addition to that, the transfer window is over. Stendel has ran out of time to add to his defensive ranks. If Souttar was to be out for the long-term, and with Christophe Berra now out the door, Hearts only have Craig Halkett and the shaky Clevid Dikamona to count on. They have to play things safe with Souttar’s fitness.
As for Dikamona, he played in the 1-0 win at Falkirk and struggled badly. He looked nervous on the ball and wasn’t particularly strong in the air. He would be Souttar’s most likely replacement on Wednesday, and Celtic can get at those weaknesses. It’s also worth noting that Dikamona has also only played twice since November before the Falkirk game. (Transfermarkt).
Hearts can also pull Michael Smith into the centre of defence. However, the Nothern Irishman likely wouldn’t be strong enough to deal with Odsonne Edouard, and the position also isn’t natural to him.
So it looks as though the Tynecastle club could be coming to Parkhead with a patched-up backline. With a bit of luck, that bodes well for Neil Lennon’s Hoops. And even if Souttar does make a return, he likely wouldn’t be anywhere near 100%.