ANN BUDGE acclaimed Robbie Neilson and Stevie Crawford as a key part of Hearts’ future after the management team signed new contracts.
Head coach Neilson and his assistant Crawford agreed new deals until 2018 as reward for the club’s on-field prowess over the last two years.
Hearts are third in the Ladbrokes Premiership and challenging for the Europa League qualifying rounds less than two years since emerging from administration. Neilson and Crawford, along with director of football Craig Levein, have overseen rapid progress at Tynecastle since their arrival in May 2014.
“I am very pleased to have secured Robbie and Stevie’s services for the next two seasons, as we continue to build for the future,” Budge told the Hearts website. “This is a win-win for everyone – the club, the players and the supporters. By continuing to pull together, I am confident we will all achieve our goals.”
Levein added that the club are well ahead of schedule thanks to the work of their coaching team: “We came in with a long-term plan, we’re ahead of schedule and very happy with the progress our coaching team has made.”
Neilson said he wants to continue learning with the Edinburgh club. “Stevie and I are very happy to have extended our contracts. We are both young coaches with a lot to learn, and while we’ve enjoyed some real success, we want to deliver more for the supporters.”
Neilson meanwhile, says Jordan McGhee will remain a key figure at Hearts from now until the end of the season before deciding where his future lies.
Neilson explained today that the teenager can continue to play regularly, however the prospect of a move to Middlesbrough in the summer is still alive.
A loan deal at Boro collapsed late on transfer deadline day at the start of the month and could be resurrected in time for next season. McGhee is keen to test himself in England and had his bags packed ready to head to Teesside until the deal fell through, with paperwork not completed on time.
He may choose to try again at the end of the season but Hearts want him to develop more in Scotland first. A red card at Tannadice last week means he is suspended for tomorrow’s Ladbrokes Premiership match with Kilmarnock at Tynecastle. Neilson will reorganise his defence, with Callum Paterson available again, but stressed that McGhee still has a big part to play.
“He’s a main part of our team. We’ve got Jordan, John Souttar, Alim Ozturk, Igor Rossi and Blazej Augustyn. They’re our centre-halves and it’s a strong group there,” said Neilson. “I see Jordan as a guy who is going to develop here. Yes, there was interest from Middlesbrough and he was keen to go down because he wants to try it down there, but it fell through at the last minute.
“I’m pleased with that because we can keep him and we can play him. In the summer, we’ll see. It depends what he wants to do. He’s matured a lot since last season. I think he’s now become a steady first-team player. Yes, he’s had a couple of little incidents but I think the one last Saturday is through no fault of his own. He goes in and wins the ball. These things happen.”
Neilson confirmed Hearts’ interest in Raith Rovers teenager Sean Mackie, who has decided to join Hibs for an initial £25,000 after passing a medical.
“He came in and did a couple of days’ training with us. I thought he was decent but Raith were looking for quite a substantial fee for him. I just felt that, for a player not really tested at first-team level, I wasn’t willing to put that kind of money out for the boy. If somebody else is then fine. If I have to make a decision on it, I have to be sure that I think: ‘Yes, he’s the one we’re going to pay cash for’.”
Today’s match sees new Kilmarnock manager Lee Clark in charge for his first away match. His brief is to steer the Ayrshire club away from the Premiership’s relegation zone, whilst Hearts are seeking to atone after two successive defeats against Hibs and Dundee United.
“It’s been a difficult week but we had a difficult time near the start of the season and we managed to come through it,” Neilson pointed out. “We just do the exact same stuff and stay consistent. We lost the Hamilton game and lost the next two but you have these ups and downs and you just try to get going again as quickly as you can.
“You always get a lift when a new manager comes in. There’s a freshness about the place because everyone thinks they’ve got a chance of staying in the team and impressing. Kilmarnock were going through a difficult time. The manager moves out, then with someone in charge on an interim basis there’s that little lift. It’s trying to sustain it.”
As a harsh Scottish winter begins to subside, the Tynecastle pitch is in good condition and Neilson hopes to see more attractive football played by all teams over the coming weeks.
“Tynie is good. We’ve had a couple of call-offs but the weather has been terrible. This time of year is always a difficult period for players. You look at the games and the standard comes down.
“From mid-November till the end of January, the weather is bad, it’s wet, cold and dark. Everyone’s energy levels go down so that period is just about winning games and grinding it out. There isn’t a lot of football involved because the pitches are poor. Once we get to the end of February and into March, the weather gets better, pitches get better and the football gets better. Players understand it and get used to it. We had it last year in the Championship.”