Ending Hearts’ hoodoo in Perth is defender’s sole aim

John Souttar trains at Riccarton. The defender was a frustrated spectator as Hearts demolished Celtic
John Souttar trains at Riccarton. The defender was a frustrated spectator as Hearts demolished Celtic
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John Souttar was stunned to learn that Hearts haven’t won a league game at McDiarmid Park for more than seven years, but the defender is intent on banishing that record this afternoon.

The Tynecastle side have taken only three points from their last nine Premiership trips to Perth and lost four times in all competitions there last season. They haven’t collected three points away to St Johnstone since Kevin Kyle and Ryan Stevenson scored in a 2-0 triumph for Jim Jefferies’ team in November 2010. Their only win of any kind in the intervening period was a 2-1 extra-time success in a Scottish Cup replay in February 2012, when Jamie Hamill and Marius Zaliukas were on target.

“McDiarmid Park is a tough place for everyone, but that’s some stat,” said Souttar, with his eyebrows raised. “We’ll just need to try and make it right this weekend.

“St Johnstone know their pitch and they know how to play – they’re an experienced team. They’re a clever side but we did well against them at Murrayfield earlier in the season. We won at Fir Park for the first time in a while last season. Hearts are renowned for not being the best away from home over the years because they rely on Tynecastle so much. We need to change that.”

Souttar will hope to return to the team today after being suspended for last Sunday’s 4-0 destruction of Celtic with suspension. Having been sidelined by a serious Achilles injury for the first half of 2017, the centre-back was disappointed that a rare absence from the team this season coincided with one of his team’s most momentous results in recent memory.

“It was frustrating to be watching, like most of this year for me,” said Souttar. “Of all the games to miss, that was the last one you’d want to miss, but I was delighted for the boys. I think that result was coming because there have been games where we’ve played well and there have been games where we’ve grafted and grinded our way to results without being particularly easy on the eye.

“I think Sunday was the outcome of everything coming together. It’s all very well saying to you (the media) that we’re doing this or that, but it’s the talking you do on the pitch that counts.

“On Sunday, it all clicked. Everything that could have gone right, went right.

“Everyone played out their skin. But at the end of the day it’s only three points – we’ve got to do it again against St Johnstone. This will be a completely different game. It’ll be a different atmosphere – we’ll need to create our own atmosphere. It’s always tough up there – they’re always set up well.”

Souttar is likely to resume his burgeoning partnership today with Christophe Berra, who was described by Hearts assistant coach Austin MacPhee as the Premiership’s signing of the season. Since returning to Tynecastle from Ipswich Town in the summer, the captain has been key to Hearts boasting the second-meanest defensive record in the Premiership. In addition, the Scotland defender has had a notable influence on the development of Souttar.

“I feel like I’ve been doing well this season,” said the 21-year-old. “Playing next to Christophe is a massive thing for me. I’m learning off him subconsciously every day. Before he came in, there was probably a lot I needed to work on so for him to play next to me and for me to see that side of the game is massive. There’ll not be many better defenders than him in the Premiership, if any. To be able to learn off him every day can only be good for me.

“He’s the captain and he’s a real leader. I think the fact he’s a Hearts fan and came through at the club, the fans know that he definitely wants the best for the club, and that’s going right through the dressing-room.”