John Souttar to Rangers at half-time quips as Hearts prevail to cement third spot

“John Souttar has stayed indoors,” announced Hearts Tannoy man Scott Wilson as the teams ran on for the second half. It was the signal for every wag or wannabe wag in the stadium to deliver versions of the same joke.
Ellis Simms celebrates scoring his first goal for Hearts in the 2-0 win over Motherwell. (Photo by Ewan Bootman / SNS Group)Ellis Simms celebrates scoring his first goal for Hearts in the 2-0 win over Motherwell. (Photo by Ewan Bootman / SNS Group)
Ellis Simms celebrates scoring his first goal for Hearts in the 2-0 win over Motherwell. (Photo by Ewan Bootman / SNS Group)

A desperate Rangers had agreed to meet Hearts’ valuation at half-time after their shambolic performance earlier in Dingwall. Whether or not Souttar was halfway along the M8 by full-time – spoiler: he wasn’t – his teammates for the time being completed the task of seeing off a spirited Motherwell side.

“Bring on the Hibees!” sang the Hearts fans after 58 minutes when Ellis Simms struck his first goal for the club on his first start to add to Andy Halliday’s opener.

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Motherwell were probably the better side in the opening half. Kevin Van Veen was a whisker away from equalising with a header on the stroke of half-time. The striker also shaved the same post earlier in the half.

Hearts prevailed, however, and did so by possibly playing a little within themselves as they turned an eye towards Tuesday night’s visit to Easter Road. Robbie Neilson enjoyed the luxury of making four substitutions during the second half. Souttar’s withdrawal during the half-time break was enforced the manager confirmed later, with the defender having picked up a knock. It shouldn't keep him out of the derby, Neilson added. He didn’t specify which derby - Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Although it was always assumed Toby Sibbick had returned to Tynecastle from Barnsley, this time permanently, to replace Souttar, few thought it would happen as soon as half-time.

A low hum of delight rumbled around the stadium as the centre-half played himself out of a tricky situation early in the second half. His performance confirmed the good first impressions made during his first, very brief, spell at the club, although it was Beni Baningime, on his first start since November, whose class shone throughout the 90 minutes.

Everton have been good to Hearts of late. Not only is Baningime a product of the club’s academy, but Simms, whose goal secured the points, is on loan from Goodison Park.

The 21-year-old played a part in Hearts’ opener too. His backheel in the box was misdirected but Liam Boyce’s determination saw him win the ball for the second time in the same attack when he dispossessed substitute Sean Goss and laid the ball off for Cameron Devlin.

The little Australian took a touch before playing in Halliday, whose finish into the corner was sure and true.

The hosts initially seemed intent on going long, perhaps simply to celebrate the fact that the wind had relented. It was certainly not the issue many had feared pre-match.

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The visitors were still resolving to play short balls where possible although one pass that was slid along the ground nearly landed them in trouble early on when ‘keeper Liam Kelly was penalised for picking up a backpass. He was then booked for throwing the ball away.

Stephen Kingsley’s subsequent free-kick from just inside the area was blocked by the wall. The real wounds were inflicted later. Simms doubled Hearts' lead by tapping the ball over the line after a counter-attack led by Devlin and then assisted by Boyce.

Simms couldn’t miss but his hold-up play and all round contribution suggested Hearts have the centre-forward they crave. Bring on the Hibees, indeed.

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