Third-place finish would delight Hearts boss

Robbie Neislon's budget is a fraction of that of recent Hearts managers
Robbie Neislon's budget is a fraction of that of recent Hearts managers
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HEARTS head coach Robbie Neilson admits he would be overjoyed to finish third in this season’s Scottish Premiership. Although the top-six remains the Edinburgh club’s priority, third place is seen as a realistic target in their first season back in the top flight.

HEARTS head coach Robbie Neilson admits he would be overjoyed to finish third in this season’s Scottish Premiership. Although the top-six remains the Edinburgh club’s priority, third place is seen as a realistic target in their first season back in the top flight.

Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Pittodrie leaves Hearts third at the moment, seven points behind second-placed Aberdeen with a game in hand. Staying there until the end of the campaign would bring European qualification less than two years since the club emerged from administration.

Neilson is keen for both players and staff at Tynecastle not to become carried away with half the season still to play. Hearts are still rebuilding after their financial collapse in 2013 and are operating on a fraction of the budget given to previous managers during the Vladimir Romanov era. However, he conceded third place in May would be a huge achievement.

“I’ll be delighted if we finish third, absolutely delighted with it,” said Neilson. “Given the size of squad we’ve got, the budget we’ve got, and the fact we’ve just come up from the Championship, I think it would be a great performance from us.

“I’m absolutely delighted with it just now. We all want to be at the top of the league. If we’re not top, we want to be second. If we’re not second, we want to be third. We’re sitting third right now and we’re doing well. We’ve still got a long way to go but Saturday showed the players they can compete in these big games. We can go toe-to-toe with bigger teams in the league.

“We don’t want to get carried away. We’re a team that’s been promoted and, yes, we’ve got a big fan base and we’ve got a big club, but we aren’t pushing outwith our budget. Our budget is to try and get us to a position where we can progress for next year as well.

“The idea is to try and stay in the top six this year. If we can do that, it covers us in terms of the budget. That means we can then progress for next year. We aren’t going to be a club that comes out and chucks money at things.”

Neilson pointed to Aberdeen as an example of the kind of long-term development Hearts have in mind. “Aberdeen have developed as a club over the last five or six years. You look at their accounts and our accounts and it’s night and day at the moment. Their playing budget last season was round about £6million. That’s a big sum of money and it’s a huge difference between them and us.

“You can see that from the quality of the squad they’ve got. Their players are all mid to late-20s. We need to try and get to that stage, get a group of players that are strong and experienced in the league, and we can then feed in our young players and bring them through.”