Robbie Neilson remains unfazed about a possible Kilmarnock revenge mission this Saturday. The Hearts head coach believes he knows the dangers of the Ayrshire side well and isn’t concerned by their sizeable ex-Tynecastle contingent.
Several former Hearts players plus Neilson’s predecessor Gary Locke return to Edinburgh this weekend with added motivation after losing last week’s League Cup tie between the clubs in the dying seconds.
That 3-2 defeat is still fresh in their minds – as is the fact most were deemed surplus to requirements by Hearts over the last 16 months. Kevin McHattie, Jamie MacDonald, Scott Robinson, Jamie Hamill and Mark Ridgers were all let go, plus the injured Dale Carrick and Locke himself. Former Tynecastle youth player Conrad Balatoni is also now at Rugby Park
Neilson has spent time studying Kilmarnock’s threats and will put plans in place to combat striker Josh Magennis, who scored both goals in the aforementioned cup tie. He won’t devote too much attention to former colleagues, though. “We know exactly what they’ve got up front - power, energy and pace. We need to deal with that,” the head coach told the Evening News.
“We also need to deal with their wide players and deal with crosses. Celtic put a lot of crosses in against us on Saturday but we let them do that because we knew they would come into an area where they don’t have a lot of height. This week, we need to stop those crosses because they’ll be coming into a guy who thrives on them.
On the danger of ex-players returning to prove a point, he added: “Scottish football is a small world. There’s always players coming back to play against you no matter who you’re up against. There are always guys who have been here and played, or maybe been here as young kids and moved on. It’s not an issue at all. If we play as well as we can and hit our targets, then we should win the game. That’s all we can look at.
“The game is at Tynecastle so we want to do well and win it. We needed until the 94th minute to beat Kilmarnock last week so we need to make sure we get a result again. Our squad is looking strong, Billy King should be fine after his rib problem. We got a good 0-0 draw at Celtic at the weekend so we want to kick on from that and get back to winning ways.
“I was pleased with the way we defended against Celtic, especially in the second half. I don’t think it was just the defence, I think it was the whole team. They all played well and defended well. We played to our gameplan and that was pleasing but, as I’ve said, it’s one game and we have to make sure we move on from here. We want to get back to where we were last season, when we didn’t lose a lot of goals.”