Hearts: John Souttar on loving pre-season, clean sheets and importance of trustworthy goalkeeper
Some teams are put through gruelling physical tests, whether it is pounding the dunes at Gullane beach or going to their limits in five three minute runs, others are conditioned with the ball.
For Hearts defender John Souttar, there is a sense that he would have done anything coaches Robbie Neilson Lee McCulloch, Gordon Forrest or Mikey Williams, the first-team sports scientist, asked of him.
This is perhaps just the second or third campaign since joining the club he has been able to partake in a full pre-season.
In 2017 he was coming back from an Achilles tendon rupture. In 2019 he had ankle issues. Last year it was his Achilles again. However, games at the end of last campaign set him up well for a strong summer.
“I’m feeling great," Souttar said. “It’s the first time in a long time I’ve been able to go through pre-season and get my base fitness which has been brilliant.
"I’m feeling good and can’t wait for the season to start.
"I was loving it [pre-season]. When you are away from the game so often you dream of things like that, getting back involved with the boys.
"Even the running, before I would have complained but I wasn’t complaining at all.”
Coming through tough times have had a positive impact on the mental side of the game.
Souttar continued: “You play with a freedom because you have been in there and nearly had it taken away from you so you’ve just got to appreciate every time you go on the pitch and enjoy playing.”
Clean sheets and Craig Gordon
Souttar has strolled through the three Premier Sports Cup matches on the right of a back three, the latest coming on Tuesday in the 2-0 win over Stirling Albion.
He has displayed his excellent range of passing with his position allowing him to switch play and fire booming – and accurate – cross-field passes, while there is real aggression to his play, the 24-year-old now a real unit, looking sturdier than ever.
In turn, there is no real surprise that he has been present for seven of the eight consecutive clean sheets which has tied a club record.
Souttar, however, expressed just how much of an influence Craig Gordon – who is sitting on ten successive shutouts – is to the defence, especially with the return to the Premiership on the horizon.
“It’s a good accolade to have for Craig, a top keeper,” he said.
"I just think we need to get into the habit of keeping clean sheets. They are so important to win games in the Premiership.
"When you have a keeper of Craig’s stature behind you you feel safe. You can play higher, you are not thinking of the goalkeeper behind you. He’s probably the best keeper in the league, delighted to have him and we’re fortunate to have him.
“It’s a habit you need to get into and when you play in front of Craigy, it makes everyone’s job easier. It gives you that comfort at the back knowing there is a top, top keeper behind you.”