John Souttar says Hearts are closing the gap on Celtic

Acouple of aberrations from John Souttar prevented Hearts keeping terms with champions-elect Celtic at Tynecastle yesterday. Yet, the to-and-fro in the encounters between the sides, evident again even with the 3-1 scoreline in favour of Ronny Deila's men, has convinced the centre-back that the Gorgie club can give it a real go next season against rivals who will be chasing a sixth straight league crown.

Abiola Dauda scores an equaliser for Hearts but Celtic came back to win 3-1. Picture Ian Rutherford

“I definitely think we can get closer to Celtic, we’re a young group and we will grow and learn every day,” said Souttar. “We’re getting better and better. Next season we will give them more of a push. In the second half we started really well, passed well and looked confident but two sloppy goals and an error from myself was 3-1. That’s disappointing.

“It’s a learning curve but we’re a young team and there are going to be mistakes. We need to learn from them. I’m strong mentally, I know mistakes are going to happen at the centre half position. It’s how strong you are when you make a mistake when there’s 16,000 people there. You can’t go into your shell. We need to take the ball and stand up and be counted.”

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Souttar was involved in one of the major flashpoints of a tousy encounter when he had to be separated from Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths. Both players earned cautions in an incident that was quickly followed by Griffiths nutmegging the teenager ahead of lashing in low effort to make it 3-1.

“It was just handbags,” Souttar said. “That didn’t affect me for the mistake. It was one of those things in the game. We’re two passionate players and I won’t use that as an excuse for my bad error. But it’s done now. He’s a terrific player and he punished me for my mistake. I want to go to the top of the game so you need to learn from that.”

Hearts coach Robbie Neilson apportioned little blame to Souttar for a defeat that ended any hopes of his side usurping Aberdeen for second place. And though two games against Celtic in which Hearts have performed well in patches have ended with bruising 3-1 defeats, Neilson remains in no doubt that playing expansively against the champions is a must.

“He [Souttar] is still learning the game but his passing, along with [Alim] Ozturk, gives us the base to play the game. Unfortunately they made a mistake each today and it costs us two goals. There are going to be days when they won’t and we will win the games. But as long they learn from it.

“We spoke after the last game when we got beat 3-1 at Celtic Park and we agreed that we were more pleased having lost 3-1 and turned in a good performance than drawing 0-0 because anybody can go to Parkhead and sit in, hope you ride your luck and they miss ten shots, or you can go there and have a go. Trust yourself to go and play and take your chances. We are a club that is progressing, who can go to Parkhead and Ibrox and have a go.

“We are getting closer, we are coming into these games trying to win where before the aim was to turn in a good performance. The performances are there now, we just need to try and get the good results.

“We need to try and develop our young players and get good ones in. They will have to be better than the ones who are going out. It won’t be easy, it is always hard to get good players but we have to try and push and get ones that are good enough so that we can have a go next year. I am not going to get carried away and say ‘we can do this’, ‘we can do that’. We have a good group and if we work a bit harder in the summer we will have a chance.”