The Hearts head coach opted for Barrie McKay, Gary McKay-Steven and Ben Woodburn against Dundee on Saturday because of their “pace and movement”, leaving targetman Armand Gnanduillet on the bench.
The 29-year-old has made only three starts this season, the last of them against Aberdeen at Pittodrie on October 30, and has only scored one goal.
Despite Liam Boyce’s recent injury problems, the 6ft 4in former Blackpool striker has been restricted to cameo appearances off the bench and his contract expires next summer.
When Neilson needed a goal on Saturday, he brought Jamie Walker in from the cold along with Aaron McEneff as impact subs for McKay-Steven and Woodburn.
It had the desired effect, the subs combining for Walker to score the winning goal and strengthen Hearts’ grip on third place in the cinch Premiership.
It was not the first time Neilson has opted for a mobile front three rather than Gnanduillet when Boyce has been injured.
Picking Gnanduillet, he explained, would have played into Dundee’s hands.
Neilson told the Edinburgh Evening News: “I felt that if I went with Gnanduillet it would become a physical battle against their centre halves and that’s what they want.
“Any movement down the sides and in behind them causes them problems, so that was the reason we went with the three and tried to rotate them.”
Neilson hopes Boyce will be fit to face Ross County on Sunday.
He added: “We have a strong squad. I felt we could do without him so he is ready for the next game.”