Robbie Neilson believes John Souttar’s Achilles agony was made worse by lockdown and being unable to get the treatment he needed.
The Hearts and Scotland centre back underwent surgery in August after suffering a relapse of the injury that originally occurred back in February.
It has been a year of hell for the 24-year-old, who was forced off during the Jambos’ opening game of the 2019/20 season and wasn’t seen again until January after it was eventually diagnosed as damaged ankle ligaments.
But just weeks after making his comeback, the former Dundee United star lasted only 15 minutes of the Tynecastle side’s 1-0 Scottish Cup quarter-final victory over Rangers eight months ago.
It was confirmed Souttar would need to go under the knife again and he was ruled out until August.
As he stepped up his rehab by beginning to run, the club confirmed he had suffered a relapse and needed yet another op.
The news came after the Gorgie club were controversially forced to stop training for two weeks after Covid breaches by Premiership clubs.
Boss Neilson confirmed Souttar is set to have his protective boot removed at the end of this month but blamed lockdown and the restrictions it put on the player’s rehab for the relapse.
He said: “John’s good actually. He’s still got the boot on but that comes off at the end of this month and he starts building up again. We’re just hoping everything will be fine.
“We think that having the operation then having lockdown, when he couldn’t get any treatment or any real physio work on it, has hopefully been the issue.
“We’re hoping this time that getting the op then getting physio every day will help him get back to full fitness.”
This is the fifth major injury Souttar has suffered since swapping Tannadice for Tynecastle four and a half years ago.
His first came less than a year after signing, when he ruptured his other Achilles in a defeat at Celtic Park in January 2017.
He tore his hip while playing (and being sent off) for Scotland in Israel in October 2018.
Souttar was initially ruled out for five months but was back in action after three.
Then came the ankle issue at Aberdeen and the subsequent
problems with his other Achilles to continue his rotten luck on the injury front.
Meanwhile, Neilson admits being able to leave Steven Naismith on the bench for Friday’s thrashing of Dundee is proof of how strong a squad he has at Hearts.
The Tynecastle boss was able to call on subs Andy Halliday, Peter Haring and Craig Wighton in the second half of Friday’s 6-2 hammering of their title rivals.
And ahead of Friday’s trip to take on part-timers Arbroath, Neilson said: “As a manager there’s nothing better than turning around to your bench and thinking, ‘They can change the game.’
“You can bring them on and you can be more attacking or you can be more defensive. We left Steven Naismith on the bench.
“He has over 50 caps for Scotland and we’ve got Elliott Frear who has played in the Premiership.”