Robbie Neilson would love to add some cover to his Hearts squad, but it’s turning out to be easier said than done.
Jamie Brandon is out for the season after sustaining a cruciate ligament injury and teenager Cammy Logan is stuck in loan limbo with the Cove Rangers unable to play until Game 1 at the earliest.
This leaves Michael Smith as the only one recognized at Tynecastle.
Neilson took steps to try and recruit a right-back and approached a Scottish Premiership club to take one on loan.
However, this did not turn out to be a straightforward process, with Neilson admitting yesterday that the player’s parent club are “dragging their feet” on a decision.
If it lasts much longer, Neilson will count on Smith until the end of the championship season.
But who are the realistic options for a loan deal?
On paper, the Celtic defender would seem the most logical. Now that the Covid crisis is over at Celtic Park, the 22-year-old is not expected to play under Neil Lennon until now and the end of the season.
He is also a player that Neilson knows well. He signed Ralston on loan for Dundee United in 2018, where he scored twice and managed two assists in 15 appearances for Tangerine.
He was also seen as a potential signing option for Hearts last summer if Michael Smith had moved on.
Celtic’s reluctance to let him go on loan may have been due to the departures of Jeremie Frimpong and Hatem Elhamed, although the arrival of Jonjoe Kenny and Kristofer Ajer’s ability to play at the back in an emergency void somewhat that.
The Kilmarnock defender has managed just 12 appearances all season for the club Rugby Park and has not been in their last three matches.
Tommy Wright may want to keep him in order to fully assess his options, but the opportunity to get at least a little more playing time at Hearts might appeal.
Aaron McGowan looked like he was playing Millen’s second fiddle this season after leaving Hamilton, but he’s been more involved lately.
Millen is in good shape to score at Tynecastle, picking up a winner in Georgia in 2018 to give the visitors all three points.
Motherwell right-back is another with a new manager who impresses, but hasn’t had a chance to sniff the action since Graham Alexander was appointed as Steven Robinson’s replacement.
His versatility could make him a smart option, being able to operate at left-back, center and midfield as well. With Aidy White unable to maintain sustained fitness, having cover for both sides of the defense might appeal to Neilson.
At 26, Grimshaw is experienced enough but remains relatively young and would allow Smith to rest when needed.
Okay, so not exactly realistic, but if you ignore the rather important caveat that he’s a Hibs Cup winning legend and club captain, Gray is on paper a seasoned substitute who knows the league.
Has only made four appearances all season so the chance to get more action would definitely appeal to the player, although a lack of fitness is an issue. It is doubtful that an external chance of this in the biggest rivals of his employers will be tempting from a distance.
Started his career with Hearts before moving to Manchester United as a teenager.
So, would a throwback through town in his later years be so shocking? Yes, it is almost certainly a non-starter.