John Souttar booed by Hearts fans - but Rangers-bound defender shows fortitude as Jambos put St Johnstone to sword

As expected, Hearts manager Robbie Neilson named John Souttar in his starting line-up for this cinch Premiership clash with St Johnstone and, as expected, the Scotland international was the target of the Tynecastle boo boys.

John Souttar was consistently booed by a section of the Hearts support.
John Souttar was consistently booed by a section of the Hearts support.

But you don’t battle back from long-term injuries and get back to the levels he has reached for club and country without mental fortitude.

However, he also had the backing of his team-mates, and the support of a decent section of the home crowd, who were there to support their team as they marked their return from the winter break with a 2-0 win over St Johnstone.

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The build-up to the match had been dominated by the Hearts defender’s decision to sign a pre-contract with Rangers. He is due at Ibrox in the summer – or sooner if a suitable fee can be agreed.

Josh Ginnelly put Hearts ahead just moments into the second half.

Running out the tunnel, all eyes were on Souttar, but if there were any nerves coursing through him, he pushed them away, steeling himself to ride out the storm he knew was coming.

Booed when his name was announced, there was another chorus of it when Craig Gordon played the ball out to him early doors.and the action was only 90 seconds old when the first chant urging him to go forth came.

But, while many were willing to see it proceed as a sideshow, they refused to let the venting become the main event. Unhappy that every touch was still being jeered, a growing section countered the negativity by applauding the 25-year-old’s every involvement.

For them, the focus was the team’s ability to move up the gears and get the victory that left them eight points clear in third place.

Hearts players mob Ginnelly after he scored his second goal.

Ultimately comfortable, struggling St Johnstone made things tough in a first half where they gave Hearts very little space to punish them going forward and provided more of a threat of their own in the advanced areas.

In the opening 45 minutes they had new signing Nadir Ciftci and midfielder Cameron MacPherson to thank for that.

The former Dundee United and Celtic striker was a lively addition and, with physical presence and movement he imbued Callum Davodson’s men with greater intensity.

Hearts still had the better of the openings, but while the likes of Michael Smith tested the away rearguard, it was Josh Ginnelly who looked to have the best opportunity, bursting through in the 10th minute. In real time Liam Gordon looked to be very lucky to escape a penalty award as he struggled to keep pace. Ginnelly stalled at the vital moment, though, and the defender clumsily went down like a draught excluder between his rival and goalkeeper Zander Clark. There were howls for a spot-kick, but referee Nick Walsh was not convinced.

Still 0-0 at half time, Hearts enjoyed a bold start to the second half, netting the opener in the 46th minute as Alex Cochrane’s long ball found Barrie McKay and the creative force, who is so influential to the Hearts play, set up Ginnelly and this time there was no hesitancy as he fired past Clark.

It galvanised the Gorgie outfit, who went on to add another in the 75th minute. Michael O’Halloran and Ciftci helped out by getting in each other’s way and McKay, once again, was the provider, with Ginnelly finishing off the move for his second goal of the match.

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