While excited by tonight’s match against Manchester City, Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson will gauge his players’ readiness for the new season in forthcoming friendlies against Dundee and St Johnstone.
Neilson, who completed the signing of midfielder Prince Buaben on a one-year contract yesterday, feels City are something of an unknown quantity as they prepare for their second summer outing. He admitted today that they could be unpredictable in their approach to the game. Therefore, he believes matches still to come will give a better indication of how well prepared Hearts are for the Scottish Championship campaign.
The English Premier League winners have a host of recognisable stars with them for the week-long trip to Scotland, which began with an unexpected 2-0 loss to Dundee at Dens Park on Sunday. Manager Manuel Pellegrini can call upon internationalists like Samir Nasri, Alvaro Negredo, Gael Clichy, Micah Richards, Aleksandar Kolarov, Stevan Jovetic, Jack Rodwell and Matija Nastasic at Tynecastle this evening.
That holds little sway with Neilson. He explained that friendlies to come against Dundee on Tuesday and St Johnstone on August 3 – which sandwich the Petrofac Training Cup tie with Annan – will provide a better insight into the condition of the Hearts players.
“Pre-season games, especially against big teams, you never know if they fancy it,” Neilson told the Evening News. “Playing at Dens Park is totally different from playing at Tynecastle. You run out at Tynecastle and, if there’s 12,000 or 13,000 there, then you get the atmosphere and it becomes a more competitive game for everybody.
“It depends what team Man City play. Do they play the older boys from the start? They’ve brought a number of academy kids up with them as well. From our point of view, it’s more about trying to implement what we want to do.
“It won’t really be a big indicator for me. We’re playing against a team where you don’t know what you’re going to get. I think the next games against Dundee and St Johnstone will be bigger indicators for us. They will be Scottish football games and Dundee and St Johnstone are in a league above us, so they’ll want to prove a point.
“St Johnstone is a testimonial [for Steven Anderson] but I spoke to them and said we would take the game if they put out their full team. They’ve said they will so that will give us a good test to see where we are.”
On signing Buaben, Neilson said: “It’s great that Prince has put pen to paper. He’s been at training for the last two weeks and played a few games for us.
“He’s looking good and he’s a top player. He’s played in the SPL for a long time and played in England at a high level. He gives us a bit of strength in there. We’ve some good options now in the middle of the field. He’s a good character as well.
“He hadn’t done a pre-season after he finished up last season so I just wanted to see where he was and he’s a fit guy. If this is the condition he’s in, having only trained for just over a week, then I’m looking forward to seeing what we can get out of him in two or three weeks’ time.”