Abuse from Dundonians is nothing new to John Souttar, who will arrive at Tynecastle tomorrow expecting more of the same.
The Hearts defender suffered fans’ criticism at previous club Dundee United, and was naturally disliked by Dens Park supporters because he played at Tannadice.
He is prepared for more carping from the Roseburn Stand’s away section tomorrow as Hearts face Dundee. It is par for the course.
“Yeah, probably. It just comes with the territory. Dundee is quite small and I don’t think either side likes me much,” he smiled. “I’ve never really been back to Dundee so I couldn’t tell you [the reaction]. I only played against Dundee once. I was mostly on the bench in derbies. I spent about six or seven of them on the bench.
“The one time I did play, we beat them 3-0 in the last game of the season [in May 2015]. Robbie Muirhead was playing as well and that was a good day. A similar result tomorrow would be nice. Hopefully we get the win. It’s just another game to me. There are no feelings at all towards it. I just want three points.”
There is an intensity in Souttar’s voice which mirrors his play at the moment. He is keeping Alim Ozturk out of the Hearts team thanks to the most consistent vein of form in his career to date. He cites the Scotland defender Andy Robertson, a former team-mate at United, as the example to follow.
“I think I need to be consistent,” continued the 20-year-old. “There’s a lot of pressure, there are a lot of people behind me breathing down my neck and wanting to take my spot. So, you need to play well every week and be consistent. I wasn’t as consistent before. I need to train hard, play well and keep fighting to keep my place at Hearts.
“This is probably my most consistent run. It’s hard to get consistency when you’re young. The best example I’ve known was Andy Robertson at United. He played about 40 games on the trot when he was 19 or 20. That’s something you look at, although I don’t think too far in advance.”
He has started every domestic match this season for Hearts and is developing a strong understanding in central defence, where he partners the no-nonsense Brazilian Igor Rossi. Their form helped the Edinburgh club reach third in the Ladbrokes Premiership before the international break.
“I’m enjoying playing centre-back next to Igor,” said Souttar. “We’re playing good football and the team is playing well. I think I’ve still got more to come. I can do better and progress as a player with more games. The more I play, the better I’ll get. It’s been good to play a lot of games so far.
“I’m a self-motivated person. I want to do the best I can and be the best I can. Knowing good players are behind you, you’ve got to keep playing well. There’s no room for error so you must perform week in and week out to stay in the team at a club like Hearts.”
Souttar is now playing in a more aesthetically pleasing Hearts side than when he first arrived. His £120,000 transfer from United at the start of the year gave him a few months to bed in at Tynecastle before this season began. His assessment is that he and his colleagues still have more to produce.
“When I first came into the team here, we won a lot of games 1-0 or 2-0. We won about six games on the bounce but I remember thinking we didn’t play good football at all. It wasn’t like the football we’re playing this year. We’re passing the ball and being patient. We’ve created a lot of chance but the goals haven’t happened. We still have another gear to get to. Sometimes you play well and don’t get result but this season we’ve started well.
“We need to keep doing the same things now. To be honest, I couldn’t tell you who we play in the next four or five games. It’s very much a case of looking at the next game because that’s all we talk about and who we prepare for. I’ve not got a clue who we play, I just know all we’re focused on is Dundee. We just look at winning our next game.”
Preparations have been exhausting for those Hearts players not called away on international duty. Double and triple training sessions at Riccarton offered a boost to fitness levels last week before head coach Robbie Neilson gave his squad the weekend off. Souttar has waited several years to relax over an international weekend.
He was left out of Scot Gemmill’s maiden Scotland Under-21 squad after being sent off in Ukraine in the previous qualifier. The omission gave him the chance to recuperate and refocus for the demands which lie ahead.
“Since I was 15, I haven’t had a rest during international breaks,” he revealed. “Apart from injuries, I’ve been mostly involved in Scotland squads at different levels. This probably came at a good time for me. I’ve played a lot of football so I enjoyed the chance to recharge the batteries and concentrate on playing for Hearts.
“I started playing for Scotland at under-17 level. Since then, I’ve never really had a rest. When you’re young, you play loads of games. I’d rather be playing for Scotland than sitting at home. You don’t really get much of a break at Hearts anyway. We were doing double and triple training sessions last week.”
Calls for Souttar to join the full Scotland squad haven’t escaped the player. For the moment, he is focused on regaining a spot with Scotland Under-21s. He is still eligible for the next European Championship qualifying campaign and is eager to help the nation improve.
“The Under-21s is a good thing. We have to do better than we did in the last campaign. That wasn’t successful at all. Hopefully, with a new manager and new players coming in, we can have a good campaign next time. I was with the under-19s in Georgia when I was 16 and Scot Gemmill was there with Ricky Sbragia. That was a few years ago so I don’t know Scot too much.”