Hearts chief Andrew McKinlay explains why the board are keeping faith with manager Robbie Neilson
Now responsible for all daily operations at Tynecastle Park, McKinlay outlined some mitigating circumstances relating to “sticky” periods last season and some sub-standard results.
Neilson oversaw a Championship-winning campaign in his first year since returning to Hearts from Dundee United. The league title was won with a 12-point cushion, but the Scottish Cup exit to Highland League Brora Rangers added to the League Cup defeat at Alloa Athletic left supporters disgruntled.
Some protested outside Tynecastle as Hearts followed the Brora loss with a 3-2 home reverse in the league against Queen of the South. Neilson’s side then embarked upon a five-game unbeaten run with five successive clean sheets to secure promotion and finish the campaign in style.
McKinlay explained why the Hearts board are keeping faith with their manager in light of the stinging criticism towards him and owner Ann Budge.
“It's the first time I had been privy to that. We all understood that the Brora result was unacceptable and none of us would defend that. We then lost to Queen of the South,” he told the Evening News.
“Our final record in the Championship was the third best of the last 20 years. It wasn't an easy season having no fans in the ground. Tynecastle was like a ghost town and our supporters are really important to us.
“I could see that in some of the players. Even away from home, our fans would have occupied the majority of some stadiums in the Championship. I don't think anyone gave any club real leeway for that.
“We also had a number of new players who arrived to stay in flats in Edinburgh during a lockdown and no family with them. Everybody expected them to perform to the highest level.
“Going to a different country without your family, in a lockdown, and you're expected to be really good at your new job? A few things like that were factors and they affected other clubs as well.
“We all know parts of the season were sticky but we won the league by 12 points. Not many teams go down and come straight back up with that margin.”
McKinlay also detailed the effect of losing December’s delayed Scottish Cup final to Celtic on penalties. He felt it took some Hearts players a long time to get over the devastation, which impacted on league performances.
“There was definitely a hangover after the cup final. It took a lot our of the players,” he added. “To come so close to winning the Scottish Cup against Celtic as a Championship team, a few players found it hard to get back up again after that.
“It showed in some of the performances early in the New Year. I was never worried that we weren't going to win the Championship. We went on runs at the right time to surge ahead when we needed to. I always felt we had enough.”