Craig Gordon last night saluted the desire and character of Hearts hero John Souttar.

The Tynecastle defender’s outstanding last-gasp header ensured a fantastic first-night triumph for Robbie Neilson’s team on their return to the Premiership.

At the same time, it also completed a brave comeback from injury anguish.

Souttar spent all of last season in rehabilitation fighting to save his career after serious Achilles issues.

The 24-year-old has had to scrap and battle against pain and frustration to get back, but it was payback time as he hurled himself spectacularly at Michael Smith’s pinpoint free-kick to head past Scott Bain and deliver a killer blow.

Gordon, though, says it was as much about the beginning of the episode as the conclusion with the defender’s all-out commitment shining through.

He explained: “I have to give John enormous credit in the lead-up to that goal. He chased back and made an unbelievable tackle, he then makes a header from the ground to stop a counter-attack and then won a foul.

“Then he goes up there and sticks his head on it and scores the winner.

“That epitomised the fight that was in the squad to make sure we went and got off to a good start and performed the best we could.

“We knew if we could go out there and fight as hard as we could, the fans would get behind us and respect the fact we were giving everything.

“We did that and we were lucky enough to come away with the win.”

Souttar revealed after his magical moment that he feared for his career when stuck in the stands for the opening game of last season when Hearts beat Inverness in the Championship.

The stopper dished out praise to the backroom staff in the Hearts medical department for their part in the recovery with sports scientist Mikey Williams receiving a special mention for organising a programme to make him a more-explosive defender.

Souttar repaid all of that alongside back-three colleagues Craig Halkett and Stephen Kingsley in halting the Hoops and his skipper has nothing but admiration for the way his team-mate has battled back to the top.

Gordon, of course, knows just what it is like to fight back from career-threatening injuries having been through the mill himself in the past with knee surgeries.

And he added: “It’s huge for him and the number of times he’s had to come back and show that character time and time again. And then perform at that level.

“He’s made such a difference to the team. He’s done so well for us. Last week, his ankle blew up after the Stirling Albion game and he got a bad knock and he’s fought back from that.

“He got through the 90 minutes as one of our best centre backs. He’s shown great resilience throughout and I was so pleased that he set the move up for his goal.

“There were so many things that were down to him for that winning goal. It was just brilliant.”