John Souttar explains why ‘proud’ Hearts have a bright future
Encouragement derived from Hearts’ Scottish Cup final performance is prevalent in maroon segments of Edinburgh.
Goalscorer Ryan Edwards laughed in the face of anyone thinking he wasn’t good enough for the shirt, Aaron Hickey was outstanding at 16 years old, and overall prospects for next season are now looking somewhat brighter.
The attack-minded performance against Celtic and positivity it generated is not lost on the players. Defender John Souttar remains a cornerstone of the team having signed a new contract in January. He is excited by what lies ahead for Hearts following Saturday’s efforts at Hampden Park.
Four defeats and a draw from five post-split Premiership fixtures ended the club’s league season disappointingly. Despite the 2-1 scoreline in Celtic’s favour, the cup final has reinvigorated many who witnessed it. “Maybe one of things we haven’t been good enough at during spells of this season is passing the ball, but I thought we moved it well against Celtic. Going forward, I think we have to take a lot of positives,” explained Souttar
“I thought we did well and the gameplan frustrated them. We passed the ball well when we had to and set traps. When we went 1-0 up, there was a long way to go and for one reason or another it didn’t happen.
“I think we can be proud of ourselves. We showed what we are about and had some good play going forward. The gaffer was gutted. We all wanted to win it for him as well. We thought it was going to be our day at times so for it not to happen is tough for everyone.”
Levein has taken an inordinate amount of criticism, particularly towards the end of the campaign. He intends to remain as manager and Souttar is convinced he is the correct man to help Hearts progress.
“For me, personally, the gaffer has been unbelievable. You can see all he has done for the club. I have said it a million times but I think we have been unlucky this season. We have reached a semi-final and a final.
“It’s easy to criticise the gaffer. He’s the man who gets it but there is a lot of work that goes unseen. It won’t be seen until a few years down the line. People will look back and realise that is what was building, because it’s not just on the pitch – it’s day to day stuff behind the scenes.
“As I say, the gaffer has been massive for me and my development. There is also this perception about the gaffer that he likes long balls. He is the opposite. He likes footballers, people playing. I think you saw that. The youth boys coming through are all comfortable on the ball. Next year you will see more of that coming through.”
A carefully-chosen few are already poking their heads through the Riccarton academy cocoon into the first-team squad. Hickey became the second-youngest player ever to appear in a Scottish Cup final at the weekend and marked the day by stifling Scotland’s Player of the Year, James Forrest.
“Hickey coming into the team has given the fans a taste of what is to come. There are a lot of boys like that in the background,” said Souttar. “You could see how comfortable he was on the ball, how he took it in his stride, and there are a lot of boys with good futures at the club.
“Hickey was superb but he is not the only one. A lot of work has gone on the club and it will reap the rewards very soon. There are a lot of good players.”
Even in the dressing-room the teenager is not overawed. “He is just like how he is on the pitch. You wouldn’t notice that he was a younger player, he has just slipped in seamlessly,” added Souttar. “He was superb against Celtic and I am delighted for him, but it is just the start. He has put himself on a pedestal because he was brilliant. That is one of the positives we can take from it.
“He did very well against James Forrest. To come in and have that much composure, not just off the ball but on the ball, was great to to see.
“Hickey is just a start. The gaffer and the backroom staff have done a lot of work on the academy and you can see the quality coming through. For him to put in a performance like that in the Scottish Cup final is great for the club.”
The summer offers time to reflect and build for another campaign. Like many fans, Souttar will hold on to positives from Hampden. “It has been a long season. Personally, it has been weird as well with all that I’ve crammed in.
“I’m just gutted for the fans because I think they appreciated our efforts. You have seen teams come to finals and sort of lay down to Celtic and not give it a go. But I think it speaks volumes to see how many fans we had left at the end after losing the final, in terms of how we went about our business.”
First, the centre-back has a new manager to impress. If selected for next month’s internationals by new Scotland coach Steve Clarke today, that break will need to wait. “Fingers crossed I’ll be involved.
“It would mean a shorter time off, but there is nothing better than being involved without your country. I would gladly take that if I could be involved. I’m sure the new manager will be good for the nation.”