A dramtic ending to the opening game saw Souttar’s header spark delirium and compound Celtic’s misery following a midweek Champions League exit. Gary Mackay-Steven scored after eight minutes but Anthony Ralston’s second-half equaliser had looked sufficient to earn the visitors a draw.
It seemed fitting that Souttar played such a pivotal role in the final outcome. The Scotland internationalist has spent months recovering from a ruptured Achilles and only resumed competitive action in the spring.
He rose to meet Michael Smith’s free-kick in the dying minutes and nod newly-promoted Hearts to their first three points back in Scotland’s top flight. They received the Championship trophy and raised the flag prior to kick-off but the real noise was reserved for late in this Saturday evening encounter.
Questions will be raised about Celtic’s defending at both goals, with Postecoglou’s settling-in period proving notably tumultuous. He badly needs more reinforcements, specifically a goalkeeper, right-back, centre-back and possibly left-back.
That’s just for starters. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that no fans from Glasgow were allowed inside Tynecastle. Their reaction to this result would have been the proverbial roasting for the new man.
Both managers granted debuts to new signings in an attempt to start the league season positively. Beni Baningime, registered on Friday following his arrival from Everton, was pitched into the centre of Hearts’ midfield by Robbie Neilson. The Congolese enjoyed a strong first outing for his new club and looks like he will become a real asset once fully settled.
Postecoglou named £4.2million Carl Starfelt alongside Nir Bitton at centre-back after bringing the Swede to Glasgow from Rubin Kazan. Japanese winger Kyogo Furuhashi was among the substitutes after completing a mandatory quarantine following his move to the UK from Vissel Kobe.
Pockets of Celtic fans could be seen and heard around the Gorgie Streets in the build-up to this match. There were scuffles with Hearts supporters until police arrived, although none of those clad in green and white were granted entry to Tynecastle.
It was strictly home fans only by order of Edinburgh City Council and 5,272 was the permitted capacity for the day. As expected, they made quite a din. Not least when the Scottish Professional Football League Championship flag was raised.
Some felt Hearts should refuse the trophy after their enforced relegation last summer and therefore jeering could be heard among the cheers. However, there was widespread joy eight minutes after kick-off when the hosts scored first.
Josh Ginnelly evaded Starfelt, crossed low to Liam Boyce, his prodded shot was deflected into Mackay-Steven’s path, and the winger stroked the ball comfotably into the exposed net of his former club.
It was an ideal start for Hearts but moments later their goalkeeper, Craig Gordon, needed to be alert to save Odsonne Edouard’s header from a corner. Liel Abada then fell in a challenge with Michael Smith inside Gordon’s box but referee Bobby Madden wasn’t interested in penalty appeals.
At 1-0 Neilson’s side were guilty of retreating and inviting their opponents to attack. It allowed Celtic to control play and build concerted pressure. Callum McGregor and Ismaila Soro both tested Gordon from 20 yards, with Neilson frequently bawling from his technical area for players to push up and emerge from the instinctive low block.
Postecoglou’s team weren’t converting possession into a multitude of chances, though. That would have been the Australian’s greatest frustration. Meanwhile, the new-look Parkhead defence appeared vulnerable when questions were asked.
Hearts ventured forward just after the half-hour for Mackay-Steven to flick a loping ball to Smith in behind at an angle. The Northern Irishman blasted his shot wide when a cutback looked the better choice.
The second half started much the same way with hooped jerseys hogging the ball. The probing paid off with the equaliser on 54 minutes. Ralston found himself in an advanced position, took a lay-off from Edouard and dribbled into the home penalty box to dispatch a convincing left-footed finish past Gordon.
Scoring into the Roseburn Stand would normally have caused an eruption at that end of the ground. However, the absence of travelling supporters made for a subdued and altogether rather strange aftermath to the goal.
Levelling the scoreline imbued Celtic with renewed impetus. Their passing became more crisp and runners that bit sharper. Liel Abada’s goal was controversially disallowed for offside against Greg Taylor before the defender crossed. That would have given the game a different complexion altogether.
Some Hearts players looked slightly jaded and in need of some fresh legs from the substitutes’ bench. Their 3-4-3 system had been quite visibly compressed into a 5-4-1 and Peter Haring was the first replacement for Mackay-Steven.
That meant a switch to 3-5-2. They regained a foothold in proceedings and this was anyone’s game entering the final 15 minutes.
Bain dived low to his right to stop Souttar’s header before Gordon, at the opposite end, beat away an effort from Celtic substitute Ryan Christie. The Scotland forward had joined Furuhashi on the field to push for three points.
Instead it was the opposition who seized the initiative. An 89th-minute free-kick from Smith was met by Souttar’s towering header, which soared out of Bain’s reach into the net. Celtic’s defending was questionable but Hearts cared not a jot.
Still there was late drama. Gordon produced two breathtaking saves to deny James Forrest and Starfelt inside the final 60 seconds. The final whistle was met by a predictable loud roar as Hearts got their Premiership return off to a rousing start.
Hearts (3-4-3): Gordon; Souttar, Halkett, Kingsley; M Smith, Baningime, Halliday, Cochrane; Ginnelly (Gnanduillet 77), Boyce, Mackay-Steven (Haring 68).
Celtic (4-2-3-1): Bain; Ralston, Bitton, Starfelt, Taylor (Furuhashi 79); Soro (Rogic 89), McGregor; Abada, Turnbull (Christie 79), Forrest; Edouard.