Robbie Neilson insists Hearts players must now believe they can challenge the best after beating Rangers home and away.
The Tynecastle head coach feels his squad have shown their credentials to everyone after moving nine points clear at the top of the Scottish Championship.
Saturday’s 2-0 home win over Rangers increased belief that Hearts can win the league and secure automatic promotion back to the Premiership. It also brought a welcome double over the Glasgow club following the 2-1 win at Ibrox on the opening weekend of the campaign.
Neilson wants his squad to take confidence from the fact they have the upper hand over their closest challengers. He also stressed that Saturday’s result shows Hearts can prevail against the top teams in Scotland.
“I’m not really bothered about what kind of message it sends out to other teams. If they want to look at it, they’ll look at it,” he told the Evening News. “We can only look after ourselves. We performed pretty well on Saturday. We passed it well in the second half and that’s a confidence boost.
“The message it sends out to us is that we can play against the top teams and get results. It’s a big victory for us. We can now look at it and say we’re nine points ahead and we’ve just beaten Rangers at home.”
Neilson acknowledged that Steven Smith’s first-half red card for a reckless tackle on Callum Paterson worked to Hearts’ advantage. “I thought the game did hinge on the sending-off,” he continued. “If that hadn’t happened, it would’ve been a totally different outcome. We can’t get carried away with ourselves and think ‘we did this and we did that’. There is still a long way to go and we need to keep working.
“We need to start games better than we did on Saturday.
“I wasn’t surprised at all about the physical side of the match. We had worked on it all last week, spoke about and watched video analysis to prepare for it. We knew it was going to be a physical game. I’ve played in games against Rangers and Celtic and it’s real physicality. You need to be able to stand up to it. I thought we did that. We put in some strong challenges, and so did they.”
One wild challenge by Rangers striker Kenny Miller resulted in Hearts full-back Kevin McHattie being stretchered down the tunnel with suspected damage to his knee. He was due to be scanned this afternoon to assess the extent of the injury.
Neilson declared himself delighted with midfielder Jason Holt, who scored the opening goal on a rare start at first-team level. With Prince Buaben on the bench due to a niggling problem, Holt took his chance.
“I was delighted for Jason,” said Neilson. “I thought he was great. In the first half, we found it hard to get him into the game because of Rangers’ pressing. When we moved further forward in the second half, Jason started making runs for us.
“We got a wee bit of luck with the goal when the ball broke to him but, in that area, Jason is probably the best at the club in terms of finishing.
“Football turns on a split second. We score a goal, then Rangers go up the other end and Neil makes a great save, then they hit the crossbar. If that one goes in then it’s a totally different game again. We got a wee bit of luck with the sending off and then the ball hitting the bar, but overall I thought we dominated quite a lot and probably created the better chances.”
• Meanwhile, Hearts Under-20s are in action tomorrow night against Falkirk. The game kicks off at 7pm at the Falkirk Stadium.