Robbie Neilson lauded Juanma Delgado after the striker ended a three-month goal drought with a poacher’s double in Hearts’ 2-1 win over Aberdeen last night.
The 25-year-old hadn’t scored since the 6-0 win over Motherwell in January and had generally toiled to replicate the swashbuckling form he showed in the opening weeks of the season.
However, he rediscovered his mojo at a packed-out and pumped-up Tynecastle to take his tally for the season to 12 goals as Hearts came from behind to close the gap on second-place Aberdeen to nine points with six games left, including a post-split trip to Pittodrie.
“Juanma is a very good player and recently we haven’t been using him as well as we could,” said head coach Neilson. “But we started supplying him with the ball and he showed what he can do. He went through a spell when he was out the team and found it difficult but goals help strikers. I hope that gives him confidence to kick on.”
Neilson was proud of his team for summoning the spirit to win the game at the end of a week when several members of the squad had been laid low by a virus and training had been significantly disrupted. He thanked the home support for helping Hearts overcome a difficult start to the match in which Aberdeen dominated and took a third-minute lead through Simon Church.
“It was a great way to end a tough week. It was a massive result,” he said. “Aberdeen started the better team and we were lucky to only be 1-0 down after 20 minutes. But then we started doing the things we spoke about doing before the match and we got a foothold back into the match.
“We showed great character and the backing of the fans pushed us on to the victory. When you play in front of 17000 fans under the lights at Tynecastle you get a lift. There was no question of us feeling tired.”
Neilson admitted he had concerns about the fitness of some of his players towards the end in light of the virus that caused Tuesday’s game at Inverness being rescheduled.
“A few of them were running on empty at the end,” he said. “I picked a team that I thought tactically could win the game but one that I felt would be fit enough after illness. We left out a few players who otherwise would have played. There were only four guys tonight that really suffered and we were a wee bit worried about them in the end.
“There are a few guys out there in the last 10 minutes I was looking at and choosing which one I thought would break down first but we managed to get through it and get the result.”
Neilson insists Aberdeen, whose title hopes were effectively killed off by last night’s defeat, are still red-hot favourites to finish second.
“We got to Inverness on Tuesday and we have to win that then we get closer,” he said. “But Aberdeen are still in pole position to get that second place, if not first. Tonight will be a dent to them but they’ve had a great season and I hope they keep pushing on – except when we play them. When they do well it keeps us going as well because we want to be close to them.”