John Souttar's message to Hearts as he bows out with outstanding performance at Hampden against Rangers

There was a moment in the 80th minute at Hampden when John Souttar was so focused on the job in hand for Hearts that he almost took out Giovanni Van Bronckhorst on the touchline.

Monday, 23rd May 2022, 3:05 am

The Rangers manager was forced to take evasive action as his summer signing skidded into the visiting technical area after making another key interception with his head to stop another attack.

The pair will be reacquainted again soon enough. But the Rangers-bound defender did everything in his power to stop his future boss from picking up the Scottish Cup with a performance at Hampden which underlined exactly why the Ibrox boss wanted him in the first place.

He was thanked by Robbie Neilson in the dressingroom afterwards but opted to bow out with the minimum of fuss after doing his talking on the pitch. The Scotland international did take a moment after the dust had settled at the national stadium to thank the club as his six-year stay at Tynecastle comes to an end. He kept it simple.

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"Thanks for everything @heartofmidlothianfc", read his message on Instagram. It was met with support from team-mates.

Craig Gordon wrote in reply: "Sorry to see you go. You gave everything to Hearts. You saved your career through hard work and determination. You have been an inspiration and great role model for every player, young and old at our club.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Michael Smith, who wrote: "Been a pleasure mate what a player. Good luck." Midfielder Cammy Devlin added: "Class soap. All the best brother."

The best Hearts player on the pitch, Souttar was a colossus and didn’t deserve to bow out on the losing team. He may have been making his first start for 11 weeks, but the centre-back looked like he had never been away.

John Souttar takes a throw in front of Rangers manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst. The pair nearly collided when the Hearts defender skidded into the Rangers technical area. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire.

The 25-year-old hadn’t started a competitive match since the ankle injury he sustained against Dundee United at Tannadice on March 5.

If he was undercooked, it didn’t show. The composure on the ball for which he is renowned was all there, but it was the stout way he defended his own box that really made him stand out.

Interceptions, clearances, blocks, Souttar batted away everything Rangers could throw at him for 90 minutes before his future teammates eventually made the breakthrough with a spectacular long-range Ryan Jack strike in extra time.

He couldn’t have done anything about that or Scott Wright’s second goal, but did everything in his power to keep Hearts in the game.

John Souttar makes a block to deny John Lundstram in the closing stages of the regular 90 minutes. Picture Craig Foy / SNS

Time and time again he was in the right place at the right time, his reading of the game and positional sense no doubt impressing and frustrating Van Bronckhorst in equal measure.

The Hearts fans who applauded him off at the end of what was his last game in a maroon jersey appreciated his efforts. Of course they are not happy that he is departing for Ibrox on a free transfer, but he could not have done any more in what was an awkward afternoon of mixed emotions.

Souttar certainly didn’t let Hearts down and bows out after six-and-a-half up-and-down injury-interrupted seasons at Tynecastle with personal pride intact as the best player in maroon at Hampden.

Severe lack of match practice makes his performance all the more impressive. He had a ‘tidy up’ operation after sustaining his latest injury 11 weeks ago and managed just 22 minutes against Rangers in the dead rubber league match at Tynecastle seven days ago. So for many Heats fans it would have been a surprise to see his name in the starting line-up on such a grand occasion, against the team he is about to join and on the last day of the season.

John Souttar cuts a dejected figure at full time but was the best Hearts player on the pitch in his final match in maroon. Picture: Sammy Turner / SNS Group

The loud cheer from the Rangers fans when his team was announced was inevitable, but when the action began it was the Hearts fans who were applauding. The Rolls-Royce defender simply slipped into gear and cruised through the first half, dealing comfortably with everything thrown his way.

There were some shaky moments for the back three in the opening 45 minutes, with Rangers cranking up the tempo and pressure for a ten-minute spell, forcing Hearts to defend deep inside their 18-yard box. But the defensive qualities, experience and composure of Souttar, Craig Halkett and Stephen Kingsley are exactly why Neilson opted to restore his first-choice back three for the first time since March 2.

It was needed at times. A Rangers team showing no hangover from their Europa League heartache in Seville were the team in the ascendency for most of the match. At times, Hearts had to defend for their lives.

Neilson, in white shirt and a maroon tie, could be seen frantically waving his arms on the touchline to organise his team defensively. Hearts did stem the flow and for all the Rangers possession in the first half, Craig Gordon wasn’t really tested. That was until Halkett chipped a heart-in-mouth pass-back to the Scotland goalkeeper, forcing him to head clear on the edge of his box.

There were no such shaky moments from Souttar. Just moments of top quality basic defending. Souttar was there time and time again to put his body on the line to stop his future teammates.

When exposed one-on-one with Joe Aribo bearing down on him, Souttar jockeyed the Rangers forward, stayed on his feet and made a timely block.

John Souttar makes a block to deny Joe Aribo in the first half. Picture: Sammy Turner / SNS

When Ryan Kent skipped through a challenge and made his way into the box, Souttar was there at the front post to cut out the fizzing cross and head clear for a corner.

When John Lundstram broke into the penalty area in the closing stages of the 90 minutes and unleashed a thuderbolt strike bound for the net, Souttar threw himself at it to block with his chest. He was there again to cut out a low Calvin Bassey cross. Next, he headed Kent’s delivery away at the front post.

At the end, he stood with his Hearts teammates, hands on hips, to watch Rangers lift the trophy. The sprinkling of Hearts fans who had stayed would have given a penny for his thoughts just then.

Hearts have been very good to Souttar over the years. Souttar proved at Hampden that he has also been good for Hearts.

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