Boss Robbie Neilson hails Hearts’ rapid return to Europe

Hearts captain Alim Ozturk applauds the fans who made the trip to Inverness
Hearts captain Alim Ozturk applauds the fans who made the trip to Inverness
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Robbie Neilson today acclaimed his Hearts players for securing European football before the Scottish Premiership split.

Last night’s 0-0 draw in Inverness guaranteed the Edinburgh club a spot in the Europa League qualifying rounds two years since they were relegated from the top flight.

Head coach Neilson praised the rapid progress at Tynecastle since then and stressed he isn’t satisfied yet. He intends to continue building for the future and hasn’t given up hope of finishing second this season. A point in the Highlands puts Hearts 16 points ahead of fourth-placed Motherwell with five post-split fixtures still to play.

“It’s good to get the point and secure that European place but we hoped to come up here and get three points. We didn’t do enough to win the game,” said Neilson. “Europe is great for the club. The top-six was the aim this year but to be able to secure European football before the split is great for us.

“We’ve made two huge strides over the last two seasons. One, we got out of the Championship, now we’ve got into Europe. It’s important we try to build on that over the summer and keep that positive momentum going.”

Neilson conceded catching Aberdeen, who are eight points better off in second spot, is a tall order. “It will be very difficult to do but we’ll keep trying. Ultimately, Aberdeen are in the driving seat. It’s up to them. They have to drop points for us to get close to them. Aberdeen are in pole position but we’ve got five big games and we’ll try to win them.”

Hearts will appeal the yellow card given to Jamie Walker for simulation at the Caledonian Stadium. He was booked by referee Don Robertson in the 23rd minute after a challenge by the Inverness full-back Carl Tremarco. There seemed to be contact between the pair but Walker was penalised for an alleged dive.

“The disappointing thing for me was the referee booked him. I think there’s contact,” insisted Neilson. “If there’s contact, the player made no indication he was looking for a penalty. He goes down with contact. It’s either a penalty or you play on. I can understand the referee booking him if there’s no contact. As soon as there’s contact like that, then you can’t book him.

“We’ll be appealing it because I think the referee has made the wrong decision.”

John Hughes, the Inverness manager, admitted the game didn’t offer much entertainment. “I thought the two teams matched up and cancelled each other out,” he said. “Over the piece, probably a draw was fair. We played a good Hearts team, all the football was in front of each other. We were spirited and organised enough but we lacked that final pass. The link-up and combination to get us in for a shot on goal was just missing.”