Hearts manager Craig Levein insists he is not resigned to losing Kyle Lafferty, but admits he is assessing his contingency plans after Rangers stepped up their pursuit of the striker.
Talks between the two clubs regarding a potential transfer have recommenced after the Ibrox outfit had a £200,000 bid rejected for the Northern Ireland internationalist last month.
Hearts are said to value the 30-year-old, who netted 19 times last season and got off the mark this term with the only goal in last weekend’s Premiership win over Celtic, at around £750,000.
Levein also refused to discuss Rangers left-back Lee Wallace being a potential makeweight in any move, however, he is still hoping Lafferty will be at Tynecastle beyond the closure of the summer transfer window.
He said: “We are still talking (to Rangers), the dialogue has been sporadic.
“There is nothing more I can say at this moment in time.
“I don’t want to go into any details but I am not resigned to losing him.
“I am keeping people up to speed to inform that the Lafferty deal is not dead.”
Asked about former Hearts full-back Wallace being included in any transfer deal, Levein, whose side return to Betfred Cup action at Dunfermline tomorrow, added: “I don’t want to say anything else.”
Levein has already reinforced his attacking options this summer with the recruitment of Uche Ikpeazu and Steven MacLean, and loan re-signing of Steven Naismith.
Czech marksman David Vanecek is due to arrive from FK Teplice in January after agreeing a pre-contract but Levein reckons any void left by Lafferty could be filled from within, with 19-year-old Irishman Aidan Keena catching his eye.
Keena made his first team debut as a substitute in July’s 1-1 League Cup draw at Raith Rovers.
Levein added: “I look at contingency plans all the time.
“I am assessing whether Keena can take the step up. He has done quite well last season and pre-season so we will see.
‘I don’t want to mess about and bring somebody in for the sake of it but my point is that he has proved that he might be around about it and on the bench.”
Levein, meanwhile, insists club captain Christophe Berra still has an important role to play this season despite being sidelined for six months with a hamstring tear that requires an operation.
The Scotland defender sustained the problem just before the break in the win over Celtic.
Levein added: “We won’t miss him off the field because he will still be here and doing stuff with the players and keeping everybody focused.
“On the field he will be a loss.
“He’ll be in rehabbing and he’ll be in and about the place anyway.
“His leadership qualities off the field will still be there.
“I will need to do something about that and I am looking to bring somebody in, probably on a season-long loan but I don’t think it will be done by the weekend.”
Levein admitted he is yet to make his mind up on who will wear the armband in Berra’s absence.
Fellow defender John Souttar took on the responsibility when Berra was substituted against the Bhoys.
He added: “Possibly Souttar, but there are a few other captains in that team.
“We have got Naisy and Steven McLean and then Souttar’s performance in the second half was captain-like – so I have a choice to make.
“But the good thing is that the ones we have got will do their captain’s part whether they are wearing the armband or not.
“I feel we have a few players in the team who are leaders and who don’t need an armband to prove that so I’m not worried about that side of things.”