Robbie Neilson has braced his Hearts players for the visit of the form team in the Scottish Premiership today.
Motherwell have been revitalised since Mark McGhee replaced Ian Baraclough as manager three months ago.
After a slow start to the season, the Fir Park side arrive at Tynecastle today unbeaten in their last six games in all competitions, a run which began with a 2-2 draw at home to Hearts in November.
Only Aberdeen can match Motherwell’s 11-point haul from their past five league matches, and Neilson is expecting a sterner test than the one they mustered when losing 2-0 in meek fashion on their first trip to Tynecastle in August.
“I’ve been really impressed with what Mark’s done there,” said Hearts’ head coach. “They were struggling at the start of the season, but since he’s come in, they’re the form team. I’ve watched a lot of them this week and you can see right away exactly what he’s done since he’s come in. He’s had a look at his squad and changed the style of play to suit what he’s got. He’s got good experience at the back and good pace in the wide areas. They’re a very good counter-attacking team.”
McGhee will oversee his 900th game as a manager today. The 58-year-old former Aberdeen and Celtic player has bossed Reading, Leicester City, Wolves, Millwall, Brighton, Motherwell (twice), Aberdeen and Bristol Rovers in a 25-year career in the dugout.
He was on the verge of becoming Hearts manager in 2008 before he decided to remain at Motherwell. Neilson, who was still at Tynecastle as a player at that time, has clocked up 67 matches in the dugout and paid tribute to McGhee’s longevity.
“It’s some achievement to get to 900, and I see he’s looking to get to 1000,” he said. “To stay in the game that long is some achievement. They say that 50 per cent of people don’t get back into the game after getting sacked in their first job, so for Mark to have managed so many clubs shows the level of manager he is.
“You can see that just by the way he’s turned Motherwell round.”
Having flirted with the relegation places at the start of the season, Motherwell now lurk just three points outside the top six and have games in hand over Dundee, Inverness and Ross County, the three sides immediately above them. Neilson believes they are well placed to finish in the top half, assuming the departure of key midfielder Liam Grimshaw, who has returned to parent club Manchester United, doesn’t disrupt their flow.
“It’ll be difficult because there are a lot of teams in that area but the way the form’s been and, if they can replace Grimshaw, they’ve definitely got a chance,” added Neilson.
Hearts will again be without Jamie Walker and Soufian El Hassnaoui through injury although the former is due to return to full training on Monday after recovering from surgery aimed at curing the knee problem that has plagued him this season.