The Scottish Mail on Sunday

Souttar catches eye of clubs down south

- Graeme Croser

STOKE CITY and Blackburn Rovers are among a clutch of English Championsh­ip clubs circling Hearts defender John Souttar as he approaches the final months of his contract.

Hearts initiated talks with the three-times capped Scotland internatio­nalist and the centre-back is mindful of the loyalty shown to him by the Tynecastle club during his lengthy battles against injury.

However, having recovered from his second Achilles injury to start the new season strongly, the 25-year-old also knows this may be his big chance to earn a lucrative move.

Stoke and Preston North End tested Hearts’ willingnes­s to sell over the summer but were rebuffed ahead of the Edinburgh club’s Premiershi­p return.

The prevailing interest of

Stoke boss Michael O’Neill is especially intriguing as he currently has Souttar’s younger brother Harry on the books at the bet365 Stadium.

Now a fully-fledged Australia internatio­nalist, 22-year-old Harry has earned rave reviews for his performanc­es this season and has been linked with Aston Villa, Everton and Tottenham.

And should the club rake in a reported eight-figure fee, that could lead to a hefty windfall for his former club Dundee United, who sold him for £200,000 as a 17-year-old in 2016 with a sell-on clause attached to the deal.

The older Souttar could now be drafted in as replacemen­t for his brother.

Stoke boss O’Neill remains a resident in Edinburgh and is well briefed on the defender’s abilities, as is Blackburn’s Tony Mowbray, formerly of Celtic and Hibs.

Mowbray approved the appointmen­t of John Park as Rovers’ new head of recruitmen­t in July, the two having previously worked closely at Easter Road and Celtic Park.

Rangers also have a long-standing interest in Souttar and may be attracted to the fact he would cost a nominal fee in January as he enters the final six months of his contract.

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