ROBBIE NEILSON has warned Hearts they must handle the blistering pace of St Johnstone’s Michael O’Halloran in order to achieve a result in Perth tomorrow.
The forward is one of the Premiership’s in-form players and Neilson is concerned about the damage he could inflict upon the Hearts defence.
O’Halloran, 24, is expected to start up front alongside either Steven MacLean or John Sutton in a game between two of the league’s Europa League contenders. Hearts are one point better off than St Johnstone in the table and Neilson believes dealing with O’Halloran will be key to increasing that gap.
“His one asset is pace, that’s it. He’s very, very quick and direct so we need to be ready for that,” explained the head coach. “We have to make sure we counter that and make sure we don’t get done. He’s a good player but his main asset is pace.
“That has an impact on what we work on when we look at the opposition. We know a couple of things St Johnstone will try to do and it’s something we’ll need to be ready for tomorrow.
“We’re on a decent run. Although we’ve had two draws and a defeat, we were unbeaten in eight games before the Aberdeen game. We’re doing fine. This is a big game for us on Saturday against a decent team. We knew December was going to be a hard game for us.
“St Johnstone showed us what they can do in the opening game of the season. They are a decent team and they’re physical. They caused us problems that day with John Sutton being direct. He hasn’t been playing recently because they’ve been playing O’Halloran up front. He brings a different aspect to their game but they’re sitting just behind us in the league and they’ll be desperate to beat us. It’s going to be a big day.”
Hearts face Celtic next weekend and Neilson underlined the magnitude of his team’s next two matches. Hearts are striving to qualify for Europe in their first season back in the Premiership.
“You want to try to take full points and if we could do that it would be magnificent but these are two good teams we have coming up,” he continued. “We want to get some points on the board and keep progressing. These two games are difficult but we aren’t going to predict that we’ll do this or that. You go into every game trying to win it so that will be the aim.
“We’re in a good position in the league so we’re going into these games looking to win and get ourselves back up into second place if possible. We’re sitting third, which is a great start to the season. We’re almost halfway through so we need to continue it until the end of the season.
“It’s very difficult to try and catch a team of Aberdeen’s calibre. They ’re a good team with a lot of resources and they’ ve been building their team in this league for four or five years. We’ll try to get as close as we can to these teams and put pressure on them.”