The centre-back, who was today named in Steve Clarke’s Scotland squad, put in a towering performance against his future employers in the Scottish Cup final defeat despite a severe lack of match practice after a recent ankle operation.
It was his first start in a maroon jersey for two and a half months, but it didn’t show in a performance which underlined just how difficult he will be to replace.
Souttar was 19 when Craig Levein signed him from Dundee United in January 2016 and has battled back from three separate Achilles injuries during his time at Tynecastle to earn a place in the Scotland squad and a move to Ibrox.
Neilson paid tribute to the 25-year-old in the Hampden dressing room in front of the squad after his last match in maroon but knows replacing him will be tough.
He told the Evening News: “John is a top player and we’re disappointed to lose him, but we wish him all the best because during his time here, from day one, since signing from Dundee United, he has been outstanding.
“He’s been hindered by a number of injuries, but he’s always fought back and given everything for the club. We wish him well in the future.”
Captain Craig Gordon described Souttar as “inspiration and a great role model” to everyone at the club and will join up with the defender on Scotland duty in the coming weeks as Clarke’s bid to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar.
Souttar played a crucial part in Scotland’s progress to the this stage with a goal in the 2-0 win over Denmark at Hampden in November which secured a seeded spot in the play-off semi-finals against Ukraine at Hampden next week.
Due to his injury set-backs, it was Souttar’s first Scotland game since being sent off in a 2018 defeat by Israel but he has a chance to add to his six caps in the coming weeks with Scotland playing at least up to five matches in early June.
After a short summer break, Souttar will return for pre-season as a Rangers player after signing a pre-contract in January.