Alexander: Hearts must believe they can push Celtic

Hearts keeper Neil 'Alexander says Hearts must strive to prove people wrong
Hearts keeper Neil 'Alexander says Hearts must strive to prove people wrong
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Neil Alexander believes a title challenge from Hearts and Aberdeen is realistic each season despite Celtic’s financial strength.

The Tynecastle goalkeeper is confident that potential challengers can upset the odds ahead of his club’s meeting with Celtic tomorrow.

The last Scottish champions other than Celtic or Rangers were Aberdeen 30 years ago in 1985. Hearts’ last top-flight title came way back in 1960, but both are showing signs of narrowing the gap. Celtic are just one point ahead of Aberdeen heading into the festive fixtures, with Hearts ten behind and eager to reduce that deficit tomorrow.

Alexander feels sustaining a challenge over the course of the season is something which should be expected of Scotland’s bigger clubs.

“I’d like to think so. Otherwise there is no point in us coming in every day, no point in turning up on a Saturday,” he said. “You’ve got to go out and believe you can win every game – and you can go and win the league. Otherwise everyone should just say: ‘Nah, on the first day of the season, give Celtic the trophy’.

“You’ve got to believe that Celtic’s record over the past three or four years means they are exceptional – one of the biggest clubs in Scotland at the moment, and their budget is bigger than anyone else’s. So it’s going to be difficult. But you have to strive to prove people wrong. You want three or four, even five teams up there challenging. That’s good for Scottish football.

“You know, whatever happens in the Championship this year, whatever teams come up, we want more teams challenging for the title.

“Look at England right now, Leicester are top of the league and that’s fantastic. It makes it more interesting. You don’t want Celtic just running away with the title every year because then people get bored.

“So the more teams we have challenging, the more of a battle it is, that keeps people interested. That has to be good for Scottish football.”

Alexander will again try to keep Leigh Griffiths out tomorrow after the Celtic striker inspired his team’s League Cup quarter-final win at Tynecastle in October.

“You expect him to hit the target. He’s a fantastic striker and he’s shown that often enough. He was the difference between the teams that night. I thought we did very well against them.

‘It takes good players to change games. We’re looking for Osman, Juanma or Jamie Walker to do something special – they’re looking for Leigh Griffiths or Kris Commons, the main men to score goals.

“We were unlucky that night, we did very well. But goals change games and Leigh had a fantastic finish, the defining moment of the game. We’ll be looking out for him and hoping to keep him a bit quieter.”