Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson today insisted Saturday’s point picked up at Dumbarton could make all the difference as the Tynecastle side chase the Championship title and an immediate return to the top flight.
For the first time this season the Jambos failed to take all three points after being held to a frustrating goalless draw at the Bet Butler Stadium – the hosts surviving some relentless second-half pressure as the visitors chased a fifth consecutive victory and a win that would have put them three points clear of second-placed Rangers, who had easily swept aside Raith Rovers 4-0 in Kirkcaldy on Friday night.
Teenage winger Sam Nicholson, who was seen wearing a leg brace exiting the stadium, came closest to breaking the deadlock in the final few seconds as his header from a Danny Wilson cross came crashing agonisingly back off the crossbar. But, in truth, Hearts were not nearly as decisive in the final third as they had been in any of their four previous league encounters.
However, a defiant Neilson said: “We’re still undefeated and top of the league. We knew this was going to be a hard place to come so we’ve managed a clean sheet and have come away with a point – that point could be vital at the end of the season and could win us the league, so we’ve got to be positive.
“These are the games that will decide where the title goes. We’ll be coming to places like Dumbarton, Cowdenbeath, Queen of the South – they’re all very difficult places to go.
“We’re disappointed we didn’t break them down, but that’s the way it goes.
“If you’d offered me this at the start of the season then I would have taken them. It doesn’t matter where you get the points, we want to win the title and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’ve got Cowdenbeath at home on Saturday so we’ll look to go again.”
Neilson was aghast at the lack of protection offered to Nicholson by referee George Salmond, the 19-year-old bearing the brunt of some robust tackling from the Dumbarton rearguard and hobbling off the pitch at full time.
The Hearts boss also revealed defender Kevin McHattie, who was substituted after just 13 minutes into the weekend’s clash, is awaiting results of a scan he underwent yesterday on his injured knee.
“Sam took a bit of rough treatment,” Neilson said. “I thought there were a lot of dubious decisions that didn’t go our way.
“The referee makes his decisions but all in all I’m disappointed for Sam because he’s taken a bit of a kicking in the game and now he’s carrying a wee bit of a knock. He should have been protected, but he wasn’t, so we go on.”
Meanwhile, Hearts’ Under-20s side are in action tonight against Rangers at New Victoria Park, home of Junior side Newtongrange Star. Kick-off is at 7pm.