John Souttar doesn’t mince his words when asked about Hearts’ performance at Ibrox on Saturday. He hasn’t long turned 20 but speaks like an experienced veteran.
He acknowledges standards dropped in the 2-0 defeat and is adamant they will improve after the Edinburgh club slipped to fourth in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
Ian Cathro’s managerial debut didn’t go as planned as a subdued display left Hearts beaten and trailing Rangers by five points in the league. Souttar is quick to absolve Cathro of any blame, stressing that the new head coach prepared thoroughly and was simply let down by his players.
The centre-back is confident Hearts possess sufficient character to address the issues brought to light in Glasgow. A nervous start played into Rangers’ hands just ten days since they were swept aside at a raucous Tynecastle. That 2-0 Hearts win was reversed at the weekend and Souttar spoke candidly to the Evening News about the reasons.
He also outlined the need for a positive reaction this weekend when Partick Thistle visit Gorgie for Cathro’s first home game since replacing Robbie Neilson. “Definitely, we need a reaction. We need to start the game well,” said the centre-back.
“The gaffer will have had a full week with us to get his ideas across come Saturday. He’ll want to implement his way of playing and what he wants us to do.
“A manager can do everything but, at the end of the day, if we play like we did on Saturday, we’re going to lose. We have to react positively. The manager will have his ideas on what he wants to do and I’m sure everyone will be working as hard as possible behind the scenes to get the win.
“Saturday was really disappointing. The whole team didn’t play as well as we did against Rangers at Tynecastle. I felt we didn’t play the way we wanted to at all. We started sloppily and that gave Rangers a bit of momentum. It got their fans behind them. We just weren’t as good as we were against them a couple of weeks ago. That was the case in every area - defensively and attacking.”
Souttar and his defensive colleagues were unhappy at how easily Rob Kiernan and Barrie McKay were allowed to score the decisive goals. Hearts had a potential opening goal disallowed when Don Cowie was belatedly flagged offside, but Souttar was concerned by the two concessions.
“They weren’t good goals to concede, that was my impressions,” he explained. “I think everyone is disappointed with the performance. I don’t think anyone played to the level they can at Ibrox. Everyone has their off days but we need to ensure this is just a one-off and make sure we respond well.”
For motivation, they need only glance at the Premiership table before facing Partick. “We’re a bit behind Rangers now, it’s a five-point gap so we need to start winning games and picking up points to get back up there,” continued Souttar.
“You always need to win games but, at the same time, you know where you are in the league table. You have to look at it. At the end of the day, you want to be up there as much as possible. You can only do that by winning games, so that’s what we need to do.”
The furore surrounding Cathro’s arrival is gradually starting to die down. His upcoming home debut will still attract plenty attention from Scotland’s media, fascinated by Hearts’ appointment of the youngest manager anywhere in Britain.
Souttar had the benefit of working with him as a teenager at Dundee United, where Craig Levein appointed Cathro head coach at the tender age of 22. Much has changed since then, of course. Souttar joined Hearts in January and Cathro has spent the last four years coaching in Portugal, Spain and England.
“I haven’t had Ian as a coach for a good few years and he’s changed a lot in that time. Anyone would, it’s quite a natural thing,” said the player. “The last week has been all about meeting him again and getting to know him again. It’s a new manager for all of us so you don’t know how he’s going to react. We just need to keep positive as a group.
“I worked with him when I was very young. It’s no different now to when any coach comes into a club. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past. I need to play to a level of consistency that keeps me in the team. That would be the same no matter what gaffer came in.
“I just want to work as hard as possible every day to stay in the team, get consistency in my game and play well.”
Souttar’s partnership with Igor Rossi in central defence has been the cornerstone of this season’s Hearts team. Alim Ozturk remains out of favour and potentially on the way out as things stand. Cathro is unlikely to change the scenario, although Saturday didn’t show any defensive aspect of his new team operating at its best.
“Sometimes you get days like this where certain things just don’t click into place. I know we’re a strong group. We’ll hold our hands up and say we didn’t play as well as we can do,” said Souttar. “The frustrating thing is that we didn’t turn up and show everyone at Ibrox what a good team we are. We were poor, but we need to forget about it now.
“Saturday is done, it’s gone, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We have to try to get some momentum going again. We have a three-week winter break coming up so it would be nice to go into that on the back of a few wins. I think we need them.”