Already in a giddy mood with their reserve side 2-1 up on next weekend’s Scottish Cup final opponents, the Rangers fans in the away end enthusiastically cheered the introduction of the man who has already committed to join their side when his contract in Edinburgh expires this summer.
Not that Souttar’s return wasn’t appreciated by the home crowd at Tynecastle Park. He was applauded alongside fellow centre-back Craig Halkett when the two warmed up shortly before their introduction as both men are pushing to be fit in time for the game at Hampden Park.
There has, however, been concerns among the fanbase as to whether it would be wise to play Souttar in front of 50,000 fans in Scotland’s showpiece encounter as he tries to help his soon-to-be former club get one over on his upcoming employers. Though relations between the maroon half of Edinburgh and Souttar have improved since he was booed with every touch in a match against St Johnstone following the announcement of his Ibrox pre-contract, there still remains a nagging doubt.
For Halkett, though, the decision is a no brainer.
“John’s a top professional. He’s a Hearts player at the moment. He’s not going to be a Rangers player until the start of next season. He is fully concentrating on winning the cup with Hearts,” he said. “It’s a chance to win a major trophy in Scotland. He will be doing everything he can for Hearts and all the boys to win the cup. Having John back is so important for the squad.
“You look at the previous teams that have won cups with Hearts, they still get spoken about to this day. It’s a chance to write yourself into the history of this club. It would be a massive achievement for all the boys in there, not just John. Everyone is going to be doing everything they can to make sure we come out victorious on the day.
“He handled the criticism exactly how I expected him to handle it. John’s a top, top professional. I think he knew when he signed that there was going to be a wee bit of noise but he has always just put his head down, worked hard and not let it affect him. You saw that in the few weeks after the window closed. He put in some of the best performances he has put in all season. It is a testament to him and how good a professional he is.”
Until his introduction in the 78th minute of Saturday’s 3-1 defeat, Halkett hadn’t featured for the Gorgie Road club since being helped off during the semi-final victory over Hibs with an ankle injury that threatened to end his season.
He still may require surgery in the summer, though that decision is no longer the definitive it once appeared to be. Regardless, he hopes that when the time comes to go under the knife or not, he’ll be doing so having celebrated his first major honour in top-flight football.
“It’s been a tough three-and-a-half weeks sitting on the sidelines. But there’s been a lot of hard work in the background to finally get back on that pitch,” he said.
“At the time it happened in the semi-final I feared the worst. But thankfully after speaking to the physios, doctors and the specialist, we realised it would be tight but there would be a chance of getting back.
“I’m feeling good. I’ve probably worked harder over the last two or three weeks than I have done all season. It’s a massive game and one I couldn’t bare to miss. Fitness wise I’m feeling really good.
“With the injury I had, 99 times out of 100 it needs an operation to fix it. Obviously we’ve gone through the rehab and it’s come on better than first thought. So I think it will be about getting through the final, having another scan and seeing how it is.”
In order to get himself in the best possible position to make the starting XI on Saturday, Halkett has had to put himself through a training schedule that’s hellish even for a professional athlete.
"I have actually been going out of the club and the training ground into what’s called an extreme environment chamber over at Hamilton. You’re in a room with a couple of bikes, treadmills, rowing machines and you can set the temperature, the altitude and the humidity,” Halkett described.
“Just the other week there, I was on the bike for 40 minutes in 35 degree heat, 3,000 altitude. So it’s tough. Not that I was thanking them at the time, but looking forward to next week, hopefully it’s going to be hugely beneficial for me. It’s a way of keeping up your fitness when you’re not actually out on the grass. I’ve been there five or six times and just been working really hard.
“They don’t feel good. The guy who works there said you will feel a wee bit dizzy and a wee bit sick after it. That first night I went home I was just on my couch for a couple hours.
"It’s great of the club to look through these things and do everything they can to get me back in the best shape possible. I feel like I am.”