Hearts pinpoint top-three aim after 15-month transformation
While digesting the disappointment of drawing Sunday’s Edinburgh derby, Hearts manager Robbie Neilson remains pleased with his team’s transformation over the last 15 months.
Some supporters jeered at the end of the goalless result against Hibs at Tynecastle Park and Neilson conceded similar frustration lingered in the home dressing room at full-time.
Nonetheless, he is content with the overall progress made since returning to Gorgie in June last year. After a controversially enforced relegation to the Championship last summer, Neilson took charge to guide Hearts back into the Premiership, where they now sit joint-second after five games.
New signings brought essential quality and raised standards among a squad which had become worrying accustomed to losing. The manager is not getting carried away but spoke about the difference in attitude in a relatively short space of time.
“There is a big bit of disappointment which is good,” he told the Evening News. “We came into the dressing room after the Hibs game and it was quiet. I said to the players: ‘That shows you how far we’ve come in 15 months.’
“The club was demoted, got promotion, now we are sitting joint-second in the Premiership undefeated. We’ve played three of last season’s top four already, and yet there’s a disappointment that we aren’t sitting clear at the top of the league.
“We have to take that into this weekend and Ross County to make sure we get three points.”
Asked about the booing, Neilson stated he had no issue with such high standards because Hearts have lofty ambitions. “It’s the expectation that goes with the club. We expect to win every single week and, as a group, we have gone through that,” he explained.
“We came in when the team had been demoted the season before. They had won four out of 30 league games. Sometimes there is an acceptance of losing and we had to change it round. We got the winning mentality back last season and we got winning coming into the top flight.
“Do you believe, as a newly-promoted team, that you can just be top-six? Or do you believe you can be top, second, third? That’s where we need to be. There has to be that mentality of: ‘When we turn up at places, we win.’ That’s where Sunday’s disappointment came from.
“It’s still an undefeated start to the season. We are five games in and we have played Celtic, Aberdeen and Hibs. We are joint-second and we haven’t lost a game yet, which is great.”
The principal source of Neilson’s exasperation against Hibs stemmed from his team’s finishing. They created a series of chances but were repeatedly thwarted by the Hibs goalkeeper Matt Macey.
“After the first ten minutes we came into the game and started to dominate. We dropped Boycie in a wee bit, started to pass and get into good areas. We just didn’t have that final moment,” said Neilson.
“We had chances and might have scored two or three. We had set-plays, corners, through passes but we couldn’t quite put them to bed. Hopefully it’s different this weekend.”