Robbie Neilson has challenged Hearts to put together the type of consistent winning run that has lifted Aberdeen above them and into second place in the Premiership.
The Tynecastle side head to Kilmarnock tomorrow night looking to build on a run of five wins in their last seven league games. However, with lofty aspirations around the club, there lingers a feeling of frustration that five points were spilled away at St Johnstone and at home to Ross County. These blips allowed the slow-starting Dons, who finished second last season, to move a point ahead of Hearts with a run of six consecutive wins in all competitions and four on the trot in the league.
Neilson’s side have a favourable run of fixtures coming up, with five games against sides who finished beneath them last season, before Rangers head to Edinburgh for an eagerly-awaited encounter at the end of November.
The head coach is determined to generate some genuine momentum, and views victory at Rugby Park as crucial if Hearts are to improve on last season’s third-place finish.
“It’s important to get that consistency because it keeps us around about the teams above us and ahead of the ones below us,” Neilson told the Evening News. “Aberdeen have been very consistent recently, winning their last six games, and Celtic have been consistent all season. It’s so important that we try and keep that winning mentality.
“Regardless of the fixtures, I always think we’re good enough to go on a run. I think we’ve got a good chance of beating any team in the league, whether it’s Celtic, Dundee or whoever. We showed that against Celtic at the start of the season when we competed well with them and probably should have taken at least a point.”
Hearts are hot favourites with bookmakers to win tomorrow night as Kilmarnock haven’t won a home game all season. However, Lee Clark’s side have climbed up to eighth place after taking four points from their last two matches – away to St Johnstone and Inverness.
“I was up at Inverness – Kilmarnock were unlucky not to get another win,” said Neilson. “They brought a lot of new players in and it took them a bit of time to get some continuity but they seem to have got it now. They’ve got some good options in their squad. It’s always tough down there on the astro so it’ll be a difficult game.”
Hearts have been frustrated by the heroics of opposition goalkeepers Zander Clark, Scott Fox and Scott Bain in recent matches, and Neilson knows his players must be ruthless if they are to find a way past Kilmarnock’s Jamie MacDonald, who left Tynecastle after being named the Jambos’ player of the year in 2014.
“Jamie’s been in good form for the last few years – he’s one of the top keepers in the league,” said Neilson. “Shot-stopping’s his main asset so we need to be wary of that. Our finishing recently hasn’t been as good as we want it to be but we’re creating chances so hopefully we can start taking more of them at Kilmarnock.”
Left-back Faycal Rherras is available to return after illness, while attacking duo Robbie Muirhead and Bjorn Johnsen are pushing for starting places after making a positive impact in the 2-0 win over Dundee last time out.
“I’ve got a few decisions to make but I’ve got a good idea of what I want to do after seeing Kilmarnock on Saturday,” said Neilson.