Gary Mackay: Hearts face a huge Celtic and Rangers challenge but Robbie Neilson is simply the right fit
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The European campaign was a great experience for the club, fans and players. Games are selling out now and the team are digging out results even when not playing at their best. Hibs have been beaten twice in quick succession and that gets a monkey off manager Robbie Neilson’s back given he hadn’t won at Easter Road previously. That is put to bed now.
Robbie has stayed strong to his own convictions. He knew the well-documented cup results against Brora Rangers and Alloa a couple of years back weren’t what is expected at a club like Hearts. The board backed him and all credit to them. He has repaid the faith in spadeloads so it’s very much decision vindicated.
There was a mess to be cleared up from before Robbie came back to Hearts in 2020. It wasn’t of his making. Look now at the first-team squad from two years ago to now. The turnover of players has been nothing short of crazy but it’s been for the positive.
He’s had a shot at management down south with MK Dons which didn’t work out as he hoped. I thought at the time he went too early but maybe him and Hearts is just the right fit now? They both suit each other. Let’s continue and let Robbie and the club develop together. The backing he has had and the structure in place has been a massive factor for him, not to mention the money spent on transfers, salaries and signing-on fees. Robbie will know he is with Hearts at a good time.
If the team continues to progress, there will be even more money to invest hopefully. Everybody wants a season ticket, there is European money from this year and hopefully more next season. That means the club can continue to build on a sure footing and there is credit to be handed out all over the place for that prosperity.
Ann Budge has stuck by Robbie and I think he appreciates that. The supporters have stuck with the club and pledged a phenomenal amount of money through Foundation of Hearts. Everything has come together over the last 18 months and it’s great to see.
The whole community benefits when Hearts are doing well like this. You look at the Aberdeen game and you see them winning convincingly 5-0. The aim now, as it has been over the previous decade or more, is to try to split the Old Firm. We need to try to get closer to them. If either Celtic or Rangers drop their standards then Hearts need to make sure they are ready and in position to capitalise.
It’s far easier said than done, but Robbie often talks about looking upwards in the league table rather than down. That’s the kind of attitude we all want and need. Ambition and drive are key to any successful project, not just in sport but in all walks of life. That is exactly why Heart of Midlothian is in such a healthy position right now.