ROBBIE NEILSON savoured the buzz around a sold-out Tynecastle as Hearts moved two points clear of Celtic at the top of the Scottish Premiership with a 2-0 win over Motherwell last night.
Goals from Gavin Reilly and Billy King helped the Jambos to a hat-trick of victories from their opening three games in a top-flight season for the first time since 2005, when George Burley’s team famously won their first eight. Coupled with Celtic’s surprise 2-2 draw at Kilmarnock, the relatively comfortable victory over Ian Baraclough’s side made for a buoyant evening in Gorgie. However, Neilson was keen to play down comparisons afterwards with Burley’s much-feted side, which he was a part of.
“It’s fantastic to see the sold-out signs and to go out there under the floodlights when the pitch is wet and the ball gets zipped about,” said the head coach. “I used to love that when I played here with a full house. It’s one of the best places in football to play. When you get the fans behind you, it’s second to none.
“It’s still a long way to go before we can match the run George achieved, though. That was a different era and a different side. It was an experienced side. Our team is young and play differently and are managed differently. We are only three games in and we can’t be getting carried away with ourselves. Everyone wants to come and see teams that win and that’s what we are trying to do. But, first of all, it’s about working hard.”
Neilson felt last night’s triumph was his side’s most convincing so far after two hard-fought victories against St Johnstone and Dundee in their previous games.
“We played really well in the first half. We passed it about well and created a few chances. Although we had a lot of the play in the first half, we were a bit vulnerable on the counter-attack and it wasn’t until we took care of Ainsworth in the second half that we looked more stable. That’s something we’ll have to work on.
“In the second half, Motherwell came out well and made it difficult for us to play. We got a wee bit nervy but once we got the second goal I felt quite comfortable. All in all, over 90 minutes, it was probably our most convincing of the three games.”
Neilson was further encouraged by the fact his team were able to cope without three key men, Blazej Augustyn, Jamie Walker and Juanma Delgado, in the starting line-up, the Pole out altogether through injury, while the two attackers started on the bench.
“We have quality players and we had the luxury of having Jamie and Juanma on the bench – that’s the reason we have a big squad,” said Neilson. “Jamie had a wee niggle in his knee and I didn’t feel it was right to risk him. I was going to put him on, but I thought we had enough to see us through the game. Juanma was fine but I just felt it was better just to give him half an hour. Blazej’s got a problem with his groin. He’s due to see a specialist so hopefully he’ll get an injection and we can have him back on Saturday [at Ross County]. If he doesn’t make that one, he’ll be back pretty soon, though.”