Robbie Neilson feels Hearts can take inspiration from Aberdeen’s emergence as title challengers this season.
The Dons arrive at Tynecastle tonight just five points behind leaders Celtic and the Jambos head coach believes Derek McInnes’ team have a genuine chance of winning the league for the first time in 31 years.
“Definitely. I don’t see why not,” he said. “They are five points behind Celtic at this stage of the season so they are still in it. They’ve done well this season again, having kept the core of the squad from last season. You normally find that a squad outside the Old Firm that does very well for a season, a lot of players will leave. Aberdeen managed to keep a hold of them and they brought in good players in the summer. They’ve managed to maintain a challenge again and they’re deservedly in second but we’re still desperate to steal that off them. They’re a good team.”
Neilson’s team are 12 points behind Aberdeen with a game in hand and still have lingering hopes of nicking second place. However, the Hearts head coach believes his team will be better equipped next season to step up and challenge at the top of the league.
“The benchmark for us this season was to try and get into the top six,” he said. “Coming up from the Championship and with our budget we felt that we could compete with Dundee and St Johnstone and those were the teams we wanted to be around. I thought Aberdeen with the team and budget they have got alongside Celtic would be outwith us, so to get as close as we have to those two sides has been great. Next season, if we can build again, we can try and have another hit at them. We need to try and keep the group together, though. Being realistic, if any team is doing well then others come in and offer big money for your players and they leave. We have to be prepared for that and turn our squad over in the process.”
Neilson intends to increase the quality of his squad this summer, but not necessarily the quantity.
“We brought in eight or nine last season and I would be looking to bring five in at the most next season,” he said. “That means we could bring the level up again and take a step forward. It is important to try and get better players in and the only way we can do that is by moving players on. We do not have a big enough budget or squad for 24 players as ours needs to be a pool of 16 or 18 at the most. The ones that come in need to be quality and better than what we have.”