Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson could hand John Souttar a debut in tomorrow’s clash at Ross County after being hit by a defensive crisis.
Neilson is facing the prospect of going into the rearranged Premiership encounter without any of his recognised central defenders.
Captain Alim Ozturk is in a race against time to shake off a tendon problem that forced him off after 50 minutes in Sunday’s Scottish Cup 2-2 draw with rivals Hibs.
And both Blazej Augustyn and Igor Rossi are suspended for the game, as is midfielder Prince Buaben.
Although Scotland Under-21 cap Souttar had been deployed in midfield by Dundee United this season, Neilson regards the 19-year-old, who moved to Tynecastle on transfer deadline day, primarily as a centre-back.
Souttar could form a teenage defensive paring with Jordan McGhee, 19, against County should Ozturk fail to make the clash.
Neilson reckon said: “John’s a good size, he’s got good physique, he’s athletic, he’s a good passer and reads the game well.
“He has a real chance of progressing quite far in the game. He was at Tannadice when I was there but he was a really young kid and Ryan Gauld was the main one so he was under the radar a bit.
“He’s just found it hard in the last year in that he’s played at centre back, right back, left back and centre midfield.
“When you’re a young kid it’s better to stay in one position – or two – and playing in a struggling team won’t have helped him.
“We see him as a centre back and coming here we see him as a development (player) but eventually he’ll become a regular first team player.
“He got into the first team at a young age and he’s got all the attributes. He just needs a little bit of work to get him better at certain things.”
McGhee started against Hibs at the weekend after putting the disappointment of seeing his proposed move to Middlesbrough fall through at the eleventh hour last Monday.
The highly-rated teenager looks set to be handed a successive start against County.
Neilson added: “Jordan McGhee has come on a huge amount in the last year, not just football-wise but mentally as well. He’s grown up a lot and is now a first team regular.
“I spoke to him right after the news came through that the deal wasn’t going to happen. He was disappointed but his first thought was to knuckle down and get on with it.”
Skipper Ozturk, meanwhile, will be suspended for the Scottish Cup fifth round replay against Hibs at Easter Road next Tuesday after collecting his second booking in the competition on Sunday.
The 23-year-old, who was also cautioned in the win over Aberdeen, will serve an automatic one-game ban.