Robbie Neilson believes never-say-die Hearts sent out a big message to their Championship rivals with the way they overcame adversity to rescue a point in stoppage-time of yesterday’s Edinburgh derby.
The table-topping Jambos looked all set to suffer their first league defeat of the season at Easter Road as they fell behind to a goal by Hibs striker Dominique Malonga, lost their captain, Danny Wilson, to injury and then had Callum Paterson sent off. But despite being well below their best, Hearts refused to succumb, with a sensational 40-yard strike by centre-back Alim Ozturk – one described by Scotland manager and BT Sport pundit Gordon Strachan as “goal of the season” – in added time extending their unbeaten run to 11 Championship matches.
Head coach Neilson believes every other side in the division will now be extra wary of facing his team after they once again showed they have the mettle to fight to the end regardless of the circumstances.
“That’s the first time they’ve been behind this season, so it’s a big statement to send out to people who would have been questioning how we were going to handle it and how we were going to react to losing a goal,” Neilson told the Evening News after the match
“Especially coming here, to lose a goal, lose our captain and then get a man sent off, to fight back is really pleasing.
“We showed that Hearts are never finished. I don’t like getting beat 1-0 at half-time, but I said to them that this was a great opportunity to put a statement out there, that even if we go a goal down we’ll come back into it. It took us until the last minute, but we did it. Our unbeaten run will come to an end eventually, but we made sure it didn’t end yesterday.”
Having previously scored late winners away to Rangers and Alloa this season, Neilson believes his side are developing the ruthless streak for which the Old Firm used to be so renowned.
“There’s a real spirit in this team at the moment,” he continued. “We went to Rangers and scored a last-minute goal, we went to Alloa and scored a last-minute goal and now we’ve been to Easter Road and scored a last-minute goal. There’s belief there. If you want to win leagues, you’ve got to do things like that. Rangers and Celtic used to do that all the time. They could dominate and get the goal but also play poorly and get the goal. It’s about getting points on the board and we did that yesterday.”
Hearts have no game this weekend, allowing Wilson extra time to recover from his hamstring problem before facing Raith Rovers a week on Saturday. The captain had been a doubt for yesterday’s match after missing the win over Dumbarton the previous weekend with an injury sustained in the recent win at Alloa. Hearts were desperate to have the influential defender on the pitch for yesterday’s derby, but he was forced off just before the hour mark. “We rushed him to get him back because we were desperate to have him for this game,” said Neilson. “He gave us an hour, but then he started feeling it, so we decided to take him off. It’s a long season and we didn’t want him to get any worse than he is. We’ve got a free week next week so that’ll give him an extra week to hopefully get back for the Raith game.”
Meanwhile, Hearts Under-20s travel to Cappielow to face their Celtic counterparts tonight (kick-off 7pm).