Robbie Neilson today acclaimed a “massive” victory for Hearts after beating Aberdeen for the first time in his managerial career. Saturday’s 1-0 win propelled the Edinburgh club into tonight’s Scottish Cup fifth-round draw and gave Neilson and his players a huge morale boost.
The head coach is still waiting for a first victory over Celtic, but beating Aberdeen at the third attempt brought a great deal of satisfaction. Callum Paterson’s third-minute header was sufficient to win a tense and feisty affair at Tynecastle. Neilson stressed it should give his squad the belief that they can beat any of Scotland’s top teams.
“It’s massive for us,” he told the Evening News. “We’ve yet to beat Celtic and we hadn’t beaten Aberdeen either. Now we’ve managed to beat Aberdeen so it gives players that belief that we can do it. I’ve believed all along, right from the start of the season, that we can beat anyone in this league but we have to go and do it. Now we need to carry it through.
“We have a big game this week in the league against Motherwell, who are probably the form team in Scotland at the moment. That’s another one we need to be ready for. We will need a similar performance to get another result there.
“Overall, Saturday was one of our best performances. I don’t think we played as well as we have in some other games. I thought the combination of passing and moving the ball in the first half and then fighting and defending really well in the second half, we showed good quality.”
There was extra gratification from the clean sheet after Neilson put a new-look defence together. Paterson and Igor Rossi were full-backs with Alim Ozturk and Blazej Augustyn in central defence. It was a ploy to provide height to deal with dangerous Aberdeen crosses.
“We knew playing against Aberdeen that you deal with a lot of crosses. You need to do a lot of work on set-plays and free-kicks,” continued Neilson. “They get really good delivery with Hayes and McGinn so we knew we needed height and strength in there. We worked on it during the week and spent a couple of days dealing with balls into the box, positioning, and who is going to pick up the second ball.
“We did it right from the start of the week because I knew what was going to happen. McGinn and Hayes pick up good positions and they deliver early. That’s the reason we put Igor at left-back, to give us height and physicality. You have to make sure your two centre-backs and your opposite full-back get in and defend, then you need your midfield to pick up the second ball. We put Miguel Pallardo in there to do that and Arnaud Djoum to try and break forward.”
Ahead of the draw at 6.15pm tonight, Neilson insisted he simply wants to play at home in the fifth round. “We’ll go as far as the next round and then try to get through that one. We’ll see where the draw takes us. I’d like a home tie if we could get it. On our day, we can beat anybody.”