Robbie Neilson today spoke out in support of Hearts teenager Jordan McGhee and admitted: “I’ve made the exact same mistake you did.”
McGhee’s bizarre handball gave Aberdeen a penalty to win Saturday’s encounter at Pittodrie but Neilson revealed that he endured similar torture as a younger player. The Tynecastle head coach refused to condemn the defender’s error three minutes from the end. The pair spoke in the away dressing-room at full-time, when Neilson explained how he also found himself reaching out for a high ball and suffering the consequences during his days as a young full-back.
Adam Rooney scored the penalty which resulted from McGhee’s handball to secure a 1-0 win for Aberdeen. The 19-year-old was consoled by team-mates before Neilson offered him a brief pep talk behind closed doors.
“I spoke to Jordan because I’ve done that myself. I did it years ago when I was younger,” Neilson said. “I can’t remember what game it was, it was a long time ago. You go into that position, you worry about somebody behind you, you put your hand up to try and put the guy off and then you forget to take your hand out of the way and the ball hits you.
“I’m sure he’ll learn from it and he won’t do it again. It’s happened and it’s something we just deal with and move on. As a young player, you’re learning all the time and that’s what Jordan’s doing.
“He’s come into the biggest game in Scotland in front of 13,000 people live on Sky. He’s playing left full-back, not his natural position, against Jonny Hayes, who is one of the best wingers in the country. I thought Jordan was outstanding. He didn’t put a foot wrong until that last three minutes, when he makes a mistake.”
McGhee was selected at left-back ahead of the Nigerian internationalist Juwon Oshaniwa. Neilson added that he could still keep his place for this weekend’s trip to St Johnstone. “That shows the belief we have in him,” continued the head coach. “We believe we have young players here who can play in big games. Aberdeen are very experienced and we have young players at 19, 20 and 21.
“I’ll pick the team I decide is best for going up to McDiarmid Park on Saturday. Jordan is a good player and he did really well at Aberdeen. I know that, if a ball comes into that back post area again, the last thing he’s going to do is put his hand up.”
Neilson admitted he substituted Miguel Pallardo after 31 minutes on Saturday to prevent the Spaniard being sent off for persistent fouling. “He made a tackle and got a cheap booking. Then he made another tackle and another one. In a game like that, all it takes is a split-second mistake and you get a red card and you’re down to ten men. I just felt I needed to put Morgaro Gomis on. He’s trained really well and has been desperate to get back into the team.”