Hearts captain Lawrence Shankland reveals 'hurt' over Robbie Neilson sacking
and live on Freeview channel 276
With a £5 million bounty likely waiting for the team who finishes third in this season's cinch Premiership, due to a guaranteed eight games in European football next term, the club’s board took the decision to make a change with Steven Naismith placed in interim charge.
Shankland feels particular regret around the chain of events due to a long-standing relationship with his former boss. The two worked together at Dundee United and Neilson was the key driving force in Shankland being brought to Gorgie for a six-figure fee last summer. He also made the 27-year-old captain after Craig Gordon suffered a broken leg in the Christmas Eve draw with Dundee United.
“It’s never nice to see a manager lose their job. I’ve worked with Robbie twice and have a good relationship with him and Jig [Lee McCulloch],” said the club’s top goalscorer.
“I believe they gave their all here and did a fantastic job over their spells at the club. I’m sure he’ll get back in the game in the future. It’s part and parcel of the game unfortunately.
“The response was quiet from the boys, to be honest. It’s always a surprise when a manager loses his job.
“For me, as players, you need to feel a bit of responsibility for that. Essentially, you’ve lost someone their job. That’s not a nice feeling and it hurts a bit. That needs to be the case and we need to try to improve for Naisy. We need to make things better.”
The task begins today at Easter Road as Hearts travel to arch-rivals Hibs for the fourth Edinburgh derby of the campaign. And while Hearts may be suffering from a lack of confidence due to recent results, the same goes for Lee Johnson’s men, who’ve lost four straight themselves.
There’s also the fact Hearts hold a nine-game unbeaten run in the fixture, including winning the last two contests 3-0. Shankland netted the crucial second in the last meeting between the sides – and, indeed, has scored in every game against Hibs thus far – but he hopes for a cheerier ending this time around after being forced to celebrate the Scottish Cup triumph by himself in the dressing room following a harsh red card.
“We probably couldn’t have hand-picked a better game to put things right,” he said of the match in Leith.
“It’ll be a tough game going to Easter Road. They are in a sticky spell as well but we’ll go with a clear idea of what we want to do that will give us a good chance of getting a result.
“I feel confident. Obviously it needs to breed through the squad and make sure we are ready for the game. I’ve no concerns the boys will be motivated. That comes naturally with these games.
“It’s massive and probably easier to get up for than other ones. I have a good record of scoring in these games and hopefully more after this weekend.
“There were strange emotions [after the last derby]. It was great to get the 20th goal and then there was the frustration at getting sent off for kicking fresh air! That was a sore one. The main thing was it was late in the game, we were 2-0 up and it didn’t cost us.
“We managed to go and get a third. It was a strange one celebrating the third in the tunnel. I had to FaceTime the missus to see the celebrations outside.
“It was a good result for us and we can take confidence from going there and winning, even though we weren’t at the top of our game.”
There’s also the possibility Hearts can spring a surprise on their hosts with a new manager coming in with potentially a change of shape, style or personnel.
“Possibly,” said Shankland when asked if Hearts can catch Hibs cold. “Naisy will pick a team he feels will got there and get a result. I’m not going to guess that team, to be honest. He’ll make his decisions from what he sees in training and what styles he want us to play in.
“The derbies can be quite hectic at times and it’s hard to get control in them. Whoever is called upon will be ready.”
The promotion of Naismith from B team steward to first-team boss could be of particular use to Shankland as the interim manager is also part of Steve Clarke’s coaching staff for the Scotland national team.
The Hearts striker picked up his fifth cap in the recent Euro 2024 qualifying victory over Spain after receiving a late call-up following injury to Che Adams. There’s a hope glowing reports of how he's performing in maroon will see Clarke include him from the start when the squad for the next batch of qualifiers is announced this summer.
“If I am playing well and at the top of my game then it won’t matter who is in charge, you give yourself the best chance of being selected for the squad. But obviously Naisy is here day in, day out and he sees what I’m doing in training and in matches,” said the player.
“I’ll have an honest assessment of how I’m doing for my club and hopefully I’ll be playing well enough and scoring goals to get in the squad. But for myself and for Naisy the biggest concentration will be on Hearts.”