John Souttar knows from personal experience just how daunting it can be to go up against Jon Daly.
Hearts’ interim coach created headlines and won the admiration of many of the club’s fans last weekend as he took on Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers in a verbal tit for tat. But Souttar, who says that respect was already prevalent in the Tynecastle dressing room, was not surprised to see such strong leadership from the man charged with holding the fort in the opening games of the Premiership campaign.
“Even when he was Under-20s manager he was a big presence about the place. For me, he was my captain at my first club [Dundee United]. I played with him so I know the leadership qualities he’s got. He was always there for me and for the boys.
“We used to play young versus old on a Friday and I would be directly up against him. I took a few bashes from him! It was a bit of a lesson getting bumped and bashed around. Did I kick him back? He was club captain at the time so it wasn’t the best idea to try it! To be fair, we had a lot of good young players back then with Stuart [Armstrong], Andy [Robertson], Goodie [David Goodwillie], Johnny Russell and the like.
“We had a decent team. We had the legs. But he was a good player and he’s a good coach as well. He is as good as anyone. I know there’s a lot of good managers being mentioned, but if we could win our games it would stand him in good stead.”
If the trip to champions Celtic was a tough one last weekend, there is a greater expectation of victory today as they head to Rugby Park to face Kilmarnock. But victories there have been limited in recent years, while Hearts have not enjoyed an away league triumph since February. But, with the players aware of the big names being linked with the managerial vacancy and keen to give Daly a decent shot at the job, they have added incentive to turn around fortunes.
“We’ve seen a few of the names linked with the job, but I won’t say what we’ve been talking about in the dressing room,” added Souttar. “I think all the boys are treating [Jon] like they would any manager – with a lot of respect. We will do our utmost to get a result for him because everyone wants him to do well. Hearts are expected to go to places like this and win and that’s the aim.”
Two games into a run of away fixtures, as Hearts complete work on their new main stand, Souttar acknowledges the difficulty of the challenge the capital squad face as they try to impress and bounce back from the poor end to last term. For the young centre-back there is the added obstacle of shaking off the rust after a long period on the sidelines due to an Achilles injury.
Bit by bit, he is edging back to full fitness, one game and one training session at a time but he knows that if he is selected then he will be expected to deliver.
“I think we have the squad to go and win games no matter where they are,” he said. “Hearts are a big club and when you sign you understand there is a demand on you. You see how much the fans are involved and how much they put in to the club. We have a job to do for them.”