ROBBIE NEILSON has set Hearts a target of nine points in the next week to tee up a potential title party at Tynecastle later this month.
Should the Edinburgh club beat Dumbarton tomorrow, Raith Rovers on Tuesday and Falkirk next Saturday, they would face Queen of the South on March 28 with the chance to win the Scottish Championship and achieve their stated aim for this season. Head coach Neilson is keen not to talk of title success until it is secured, and he knows the next eight days are pivotal. Dumbarton’s visit precedes potentially-dangerous trips to Stark’s Park and the Falkirk Stadium and Neilson has set out clear aims for his squad.
“It’s trying to motivate them for one game at a time,” he told the Evening News. “Dumbarton tomorrow is another big three points for us. We’re away from home in the next two games so it’s important we give the fans something to cheer.
“We’ve tried to forget about the title all the way along so we aren’t going to change now. It’s game to game. We play Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday this week. The challenge is to get nine points. We haven’t played many midweek games this season so it’s a big challenge to go to Raith and then Falkirk and try to pick up three points there.
“We’ve still to get these nine points. We’ve to get three points tomorrow first, so we aren’t looking ahead to any games. If and when we do get the title, we aren’t going to take the foot off the gas either. We need to make sure we keep winning games.”
Left-back Kevin McHattie returns to the Hearts squad this weekend for the first time since tearing his medial knee ligament in November. He is likely to start on the substitutes’ bench, while midfielder Prince Buaben remains doubtful because of a bruised toe.
“Kevin is back in the squad and we’ll need to see how Buaben is. We’ll need to see how he is today to see whether he could be involved tomorrow,” said Neilson. “He hasn’t trained. He’s been on the bike and doing a bit of fitness work. He might make it but, if he does, he’ll probably just be on the bench.”
Neilson reiterated the need for his players to continue performing, with injuries continuing to clear and only striker Dale Carrick (hamstring) out for any length of time. “We have real competition for places so the guys know they need to go out, work really hard and perform or somebody else will come in. It’s a case of us trying to dominate games.”
• Hearts players Liam Smith and Angus Beith have been included in the Scotland squad for this month’s UEFA European Under-19 Championship elite round.
The young Scots travel to Austria to face the host nation on March 26 in Rannersdorf before taking on Italy (March 28) and Croatia (March 31) in Lindabrunn.