Hearts ‘must remain dignified’ in title race

Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson
Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson
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Robbie Neilson has told his table-topping Hearts players to maintain their dignity and not allow cockiness to undermine their title challenge.

The Jambos are six points clear of second-place Rangers ahead of today’s Tynecastle showdown between the two teams.

In surging clear at the top, the Hearts players have had to contend with Rangers players openly questioning whether they have the experience and the bottle to remain there until the end of the season.

While such talk has been shrugged off by Neilson as mind games, the Hearts boss is keen to ensure that his players don’t rise to the bait.

Although there is a widespread belief at Tynecastle that they can go the distance and win the league, Neilson, wary of making sure the club maintain their humility, would prefer his players to concentrate on doing their talking on the park instead of making any grand boasts which could come back to haunt them.

‘It was always going to come,” Neilson said with regard to the Rangers players’ attempts to unsettle his side. “We knew that at the start of the season, that the intensity would crank up and crank up, the longer the season went on and we were there or thereabouts.

“But we’re ready for it and I’m sure we’re going to handle it. The players are ready for it and it’s my job, along with [assistant] Stevie Crawford, to manage it.

“We’ve said all along that, even the guys that come along and speak to the press, we try to make sure that they stay dignified in what they’re saying, be humble, because we realise that the club, a year ago, was in real financial difficulty. The fans backed us to the hilt, we were struggling in the league.

“We’re not going to turn round within the space of the year and say we’re going to do this or we’re going to do that, start shouting our mouth off. We need to be dignified.”

After the toils of recent seasons, Neilson believes today’s top-of-the-table blockbuster is the perfect treat for the Hearts fans who stuck with the club through the dark days. He is excited by the prospect of Hearts fans occupying all four stands for the sold-out encounter, with Rangers’ regular allocation in the Roseburn Stand having been chopped from 3500 to just 1300 in order to accommodate an extra 2000 home supporters.

“It will be great to have so many Hearts fans here,” said Neilson. “Rangers have sold their end out and I’m sure they’re going to make a lot of noise. But there was a huge

demand for the Hearts fans to see this game, so it was important that we gave them the opportunity to come along.

“I think the game was sold out three or four weeks ago, the hospitality is sold out. It’s a great day to be a Hearts fan and hopefully we can give them something to shout about.”

Captain Danny Wilson and top scorer Osman Sow have only an outside chance of starting today’s match, but Prince Buaben is expected to recover from illness and Sam Nicholson is back in the fold after his knee’s intolerance to plastic playing surfaces caused him to miss last weekend’s win at Falkirk and also withdraw from Scotland Under-21s’ trip to Switzerland.