Hearts not fully firing as Robbie Neilson pinpoints the attitude his team needs after Kilmarnock draw

Robbie Neilson praised Hearts’ character in fighting back from 2-0 down to earn a draw at Kilmarnock but stated that they should have won.
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The hosts were 2-0 ahead after an hour thanks to goals from Chris Stokes and Kyle Lafferty. Stephen Humphrys quickly halved the deficit with his first goal in maroon, and Nathaniel Atkinson’s sublime stoppage-time volley secured a draw for Hearts.

They now sit fifth in the cinch Premiership table and Neilson is convinced more improvement will come. “Ten days ago we were sitting third in the league and second in our [European] group,” he said. “A couple of defeats against good teams [Rangers and Fiorentina] and the perspective changes.

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“Today, we create a number of early chances and we’re just not quite firing on all cylinders at the moment. If we take one of those chances, it’s a different game. The pleasing thing is that we fought back. We continued to pass it, get forward, we deserved a point at least.

“The boys wanted to go again [after equalising] and get three points from the game. That’s what we need here. We’re pleased to get a point the way it came at the end, but we’re disappointed not to get three. I think we should be coming here and, with the chances we created, we should have taken more from the game.”

Atkinson’s late strike drew acclaim from his manager nonetheless. “I’m delighted that, in the 94th minute, our right-back is 20 yards from goal,” added Neilson. “We were pushing and pushing to try and get something out of the game.

“Nat’s a great kid, he has come over there and he probably hasn’t played as much as he’d have wanted. Today showed his quality, defensively and attacking. Hopefully this will help him kick on.”

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Hearts’ relentless schedule continues with Thursday’s Europa Conference League trip to Florence and then a league visit to Aberdeen. “We’ve had a number of games, European games, a huge one on Thursday while the rest of the team are preparing week-to-week.

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson during the 2-2 draw with Kilmarnock.Hearts manager Robbie Neilson during the 2-2 draw with Kilmarnock.
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson during the 2-2 draw with Kilmarnock.

“The next few weeks are going to be like that, too. We travel to Florence to play Fiorentina on Thursday night then we are back to travel up to Aberdeen on Sunday. That’s asking a lot of the players but they are starting to adapt to it now, starting to be aware of what they need to do to recover and be ready for the Sunday.

“To work right the way through to the 95th minute to get us a point out the game was great from them. It’s always difficult down here, the [astroturf] surface makes it awkward to play on at times.

“The rain actually helped us because if you come here, it’s dry and sticky and can be hard to play any football on it at all. Maybe the monsoon helped us.”

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Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes was devastated at full-time. “It feels like a defeat,” he conceded. “I'm more annoyed with the first goal because we didn't get to enjoy being 2-0 up. I felt as though we did so much right in the game.

“We tried to make it a cup tie. When we got the second goal, I thought we had Hearts exactly where we wanted them. The equaliser is an unbelievable strike.”