Hearts players must face up to condemnation for their early European exit, head coach Robbie Neilson admitted today.
Birkirkara’s shock Europa League triumph at Tynecastle left fans disgruntled and Neilson says everyone must accept the criticism.
Elimination from the Europa League to a Maltese club at the second qualifying stage stunned Hearts and their supporters last Thursday.
The 2-1 loss leaves the Edinburgh club open to questions and some harsh public comment, which Neilson insists is justified. “That’s part of football, you have to accept it. If you play at a big club like Hearts then you’re expected to win every game. We have to accept that and the players do accept it,” he told the Evening News.
“We should be [criticised]. We want to win every game. When you lose a game of football, you have to take the criticism. When you win a game, you accept the praise. That’s the nature of football – it’s very black and white. It’s a core sport in that you either win or lose. When you win, you’re great. When you lose, you’re not.”
Whilst urging his squad to deal with critics, Neilson also hopes to carry forward some positive experiences from European ties against Infonet and Birkirkara.
“The boys’ heads are down but we have to take it on the chin. We must accept it and move on, take the positives we can,” he continued.
“The positives are that, on Thursday, we dominated a lot of the play, got into good areas and I think the players showed they can play at a European level. The negatives were that we didn’t take our chances and we lost cheap goals.
“They’re a young group of players who are progressing all the time. A lot of them have progressed quicker than they might have. Thursday night was a big learning curve for them.
“We have to stay positive. We are a club that is still growing and still moving in the right direction. We need to keep pushing on.”
Hearts will now prepare for the Ladbrokes Premiership campaign starting on Sunday week against Celtic at Tynecastle.
“We have friendlies coming up so we’ll use these to get the team fit and ready for the league. Europe was good for us in the sense it got us going and gave us four competitive games. The main target every year is the league,” said Neilson.
“We need to go again. It’s been a great experience and learning curve. We’ve had four tough games in Europe. On Thursday, we created a lot of opportunities and passed the ball well. We were done on the sucker-punch.
“I think the players know what European football is about now. You have to make sure you’re switched on all the time. You don’t give up goals and, when you get opportunities, you must take them. You don’t get many and we should have scored more on Thursday.”