Neilson: Christmas at Cowdenbeath suits us

Robbie Neilson is keen to maintain momentum
Robbie Neilson is keen to maintain momentum
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HEARTS pressed for their postponed fixture with Cowdenbeath to be rescheduled at the first opportunity, hence the 7.45pm kick-off next Tuesday, December 23.

Head coach Robbie Neilson explained today that his club wanted the game rearranged as soon as possible in the hope of increasing their lead at the top of the Scottish Championship and to make use of key players returning from injury and suspension.

Tynecastle officials pushed for an early new date once Saturday’s encounter at Central Park was postponed because of a frozen pitch. They agreed to a midweek fixture next Tuesday, with some fans questioning the reasons behind holding such a match so close to Christmas and at relatively short notice.

Neilson revealed that Hearts requested the match take place quickly because they want to maintain momentum at the top of the league. Rangers’ defeat at Queen of the South on Friday night leaves Hearts nine points clear with a game in hand, and they are now targeting nine points from Alloa this Saturday, Cowdenbeath on Tuesday and Livingston next weekend.

That would put them a minimum 12 points clear of Rangers, who are currently in second place but reeling after manager Ally McCoist’s resignation. Hearts also wanted the trip to Cowdenbeath organised soon because players like Dale Carrick, Sam Nicholson and Jason Holt are free of injury and eager to play. Vice-captain Morgaro Gomis will also be free from suspension after this weekend.

“That was one of the reasons behind us pushing to get it organised quickly,” Neilson told the Evening News. “We pushed for it because we want to keep the games coming and hopefully get the points on the board. I’d like to try and get a result on Saturday against Alloa first and foremost but we have a week where we can potentially pick up nine points, which would be huge for us.

“We were looking to get the Cowdenbeath game arranged for as soon as we could to keep the momentum going and because we’ve got injured players coming back. Carrick is back, Nicholson will be back, Holt will be back, and Morgaro Gomis will be available against Cowdenbeath now. He’s suspended against Alloa but then he can come back.

“We could have put the Cowdenbeath game back until later in the season but we don’t know what our squad is going to be like – who might be injured or whatever. We have a rough idea at the moment that we’re going to be without Kevin McHattie and Osman Sow for a few weeks and that should be it.

“If we’d moved the game to the end of January or the middle of February or something, then we could find ourselves sitting with seven or eight players out.

“We know what we’ve got at the moment and if everybody gets through Saturday okay we’ll have a strong squad to go to Cowdenbeath next Tuesday.”

Momentum has become something of a buzz word around Riccarton this season as Hearts continue unbeaten in their league campaign. The ultimate aim is to gain automatic promotion back to the Premiership but the weather interrupted that quest on Saturday, much to Neilson’s frustration.

“I was disappointed because we were hoping the game would be on as we’d like to have played,” he admitted. “The referee [Calum Murray] made the decision that the six-yard areas were rock hard and dangerous.”

Nonetheless, that did not mean an unexpected day off for the Hearts players. They underwent a rigorous training session as Neilson and his coaching staff sought to continue the habit of pushing their players hard every Saturday afternoon. “We decided to go to World of Soccer [in Edinburgh] to try and get a wee bit of training in and now we get prepared to play Alloa this Saturday,” he continued.

“It [the postponement] is just one of these things you need to deal with. That’s why we decided to bring the players in on Saturday at lunchtime. We gave them a really strong, hard session which kind of mimicked a game a little bit. We wanted to get them working so that they’re always in that routine of playing on a Saturday.”

That routine changes next week with a game in between which Hearts are more than happy to accommodate. Thoughts of visiting Central Park on a cold winter’s night in late December may not appeal to many, but Neilson will ensure his squad is thoroughly prepared.

He will also take the chance to rotate his squad and give players game time over what will now become a busy period of matches through to the Edinburgh derby on January 3. “We play Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday next week because the Cowdenbeath game has been moved. It means now we will have to change our routine a wee bit because we play on the Tuesday, but midweek games are part and parcel of football. I’m sure we’ll deal with it fine,” he said.

“If the Cowdenbeath game had gone ahead at the weekend there, we would just have been Saturday, Saturday, Saturday right through the Christmas and New Year period. Sometimes, when Christmas falls at a weekend, it’s different and you end up playing quite a few games round about that time. This year it’s not too bad, although we now have the Cowdenbeath game to deal with in between the Saturday games.”