ROBBIE NEILSON today warned Hearts to write Dundee United off at their peril and insisted he expects the Tannadice club to avoid relegation.
The Arabs are ten points adrift of second-bottom Kilmarnock in the Ladbrokes Premiership heading to Tynecastle tonight, but Neilson believes they can get out of that predicament.
As a former United player, the Hearts head coach is desperate to see his old club preserve their place in the top flight. He is confident manager Mixu Paatelainen can halt a run of one win in ten games since he took over from Jackie McNamara, but pointed to the January transfer window as a key period.
“They’re a good club and they’re in a difficult position just now. Still, I genuinely don’t think they’ll go down,” said Neilson. “I think Mixu will strengthen in the January window and I think the chairman will back him. They’ll bring players in and they’ll get a lift. They aren’t too far away at the moment. With the players they have and the ones I would expect them to bring in, they can put a run together and get themselves out of that group because they’re a big club.
“They’re ten points behind so you’re looking at four wins. Look what Ross County did last year when Jim McIntyre came in. He brought in a few players and moved a lot out. He got the opportunity to change things. If you’re a manager coming in and you get that January window and you get backed, then you’ve got a chance. If you come in after the window then it’s very difficult to change things.”
Having lost Hearts, Hibs and Rangers from the top level of Scottish football, Neilson knows the absence of United would be keenly felt. “They are a big team who have been in the top flight a long time. It’s like anything, you have to get results. I think they will. Whether they do or not has yet to be seen.”
Neilson sees January as a possible opportunity to strengthen his own squad if he can find the type of striker he desires. “I don’t need to bring anybody in but we’re actively looking for one striker,” he explained. “There are a couple out there that we’ve been looking at but it all comes down to money. We aren’t going to throw money at it. We’ve got a budget which we’ll stay within. If somebody comes up who we believe can fit into that budget and add quality to the squad, then we’ll try to do it.”
Preventing other clubs luring key players away is probably even more vital to Hearts’ prospects of qualifying for Europe this season. “It probably is more important than bringing anybody else in,” continued Neilson. “We’ve got some really good players here and I’m pretty sure there will be teams interested. The pleasing thing is we don’t need to sell to balance the books. We can hold on to them.
“There will be interest in them all – Sow, Nicholson, Paterson. They’ve all done exceptionally well. If the team does well and the players are doing well, there’s always interest in them.”