More players to leave Hearts as stable summer helps with Premiership plans
Their place in next season’s Premiership is guaranteed and Robbie Neilson remains in charge despite complaints from a section of fans. Last summer, a date in Edinburgh’s Court of Session to challenge an enforced relegation followed just days after Neilson replaced Daniel Stendel as manager.
It made for a hectic and unpredictable pre-season period as Neilson tried to assemble a squad able to win promotion at the first attempt. That task was completed earlier this month and there is a degree of comfort knowing Friday’s final Championship fixture against Raith Rovers precedes a long close season in which to recruit new players.
“We're in a far better position than we were last season,” explained Neilson. “At this point last year we still had the court case and we didn't know what league we were going to be in, what the budget was going to be or when we were going to start.
“We've managed to win the title early which means we can start focusing on recruitment. We know where we're going to be, where we're going to start and what budget we've got to work with so it'll be easier this year.”
Christophe Berra and Harry Cochrane are already confirmed as leaving Hearts at the end of the season. Discussions have taken place with others who will follow suit.
“We've had a conversation with a few of them so the players know, but we'll keep that in house,” said Neilson. “A couple of them have asked us to until the time is right to say so. But we've let them know our thoughts and we’ve got their thoughts as well so there's another couple that know.”
Those incoming must be of sufficient quality to enhance the Hearts squad for the top flight. “It's a balancing act,” added the manager. “There's players on the market just now that are available and there will be other players that come up when the other leagues finish. That could be in a week, four weeks or six weeks time.
“We've got our key areas where we want to recruit early and in others we'll take our time and see what comes up in the market.”
All three teams who suffered demotions last summer – the result of a vote to end the season early by Scottish Professional Football League clubs – could find themselves promoted over the coming weeks.
Partick Thistle will win League One with victory against Falkirk on Thursday night and Stranraer are sitting in League Two’s promotion play-off zone. The satisfaction would be almost tangible at Tynecastle, Firhill and Stair Park if the three clubs managed to bounce back to the divisions they fought to stay in.
“I think it would be brilliant. I'm delighted to see Partick kicking into form at the right time,” said Neilson. “I'm not surprised with Ian [McCall] there, who is experienced at winning that league.
“It would be good if Stranraer can make the play-offs and get up. We focus on ourselves but we always have an eye on these other teams.
“Our main objective was to get promoted and I think Partick and Stranraer will be the same. Both of them are still in positions where they can do that. It would be great to see them both get up.”
John McGlynn’s Raith rebuild
It was also be a significant achievement were Raith to join Hearts in the Premiership. John McGlynn – a former Tynecastle manager – guided the Kirkcaldy club to promotion from League One last year and is now aiming for a second jump in succession via the Championship play-offs.
A win over Hearts in Fife on Friday would secure Rovers second place. “I think John has done a fantastic job and that's no surprise. I've known John for nearly 25 years,” stated Neilson. “He was a youth coach when I first came in as a player at Hearts. He progressed to the reserves, first-team coach and eventually became the manager.
"He's been successful with just about every club he's been at. He has a good group at Raith who play good football so they aren't in a false position. They've earned the right to be there.
“I think all the teams in the play-offs would bring something to the Premiership. Dundee have the experience, Dunfermline have a freshness having been there a number of years ago, and Raith could come up with John.
“Any team, like us, will need to recruit in the summer and it will come down to that regarding how they do the following season.”
Hearts travel across the River Forth with their own aims and objectives. Players are aiming for a pre-agreed points target and will also be eager to end the campaign with a fifth successive clean sheet.
“There's a lot riding on it for us as well [as Raith]. We want to go there and win. We had a great result and performance there last time and we'd like to finish off in style,” remarked Neilson.
“We ended the home campaign in style [beating Inverness 3-0] and we want to try and do that away from home. It's a game we are looking forward to.
“It's similar to Saturday's game, when Inverness had to win and were on the front foot as opposed to some teams this season who just sit in. I expect Raith Rovers to be at it and come out trying to win.”
Jamie Walker, Aidy White and Stephen Kingsley are unlikely to be fit but Neilson added: “Everyone else from the weekend should be fine for Friday.”