The Irish midfielder turned the game in the Edinburgh club’s favour after entering the fray as substitute with the scoreline at 2-2. He scored before crossing for Ellis Simms to convert the fourth and final goal, taking Hearts to Hampden Park for next month’s semi-finals.
“Credit to Aaron because he’s not had the opportunities he’s probably deserved,” admitted Neilson. “He trains well every day and it’s credit to him that when he does get a chance like tonight, he comes and changes the game for us. I’m delighted for him because he’s a great kid. He hasn’t had the opportunity his training has merited.”
McEneff has spent most of the season on the substitutes’ bench, often unused, but has scored three times in 16 appearances. He intervened after Eamonn Brophy and Connor Ronan had erased Hearts’ first two goals, which came courtesy of Beni Baningime and Peter Haring.
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“It was a good reaction from us at 2-2. It was an unbelievable strike from Ronan,” admitted Neilson after the Ireland Under-21 internationalist hit a spectacular equaliser from 30 yards.
“I was standing behind it and was delighted that he hit it from that angle, but I ended up clapping it because it was a sensational goal. It took that to get them equal to us but we then made the change and we dominated after that.
“I felt we created more clear cut chances. Craig Halkett hit the bar and in the second half we had them hemmed in with a number of shots.”
Neilson urged Hearts to seize their destiny in the final weeks of the season. Their target is to finish third in the Premiership and win the cup.
“So far, it’s been a good season. But that’s the key, so far,” said Neilson. “We still have a lot to do. We have to try and secure that third spot in the league. We’re in the hat for the semi-final so hopefully we get a good draw and can get through.
“I’ve got a good group here and this gives injured players a carrot to try and get back – not just for Saturday but for a Scottish Cup semi-final. We’ve given the fans a chance to go to Hampden so hopefully we can take a massive crowd there and get through.
“I expect to have three or four of the injured ones back for Saturday which will make a massive difference. We didn’t have many options today. I was going to start McEneff but it would only have given us Haring, Toby Sibbick and Taylor Moore on the bench.
“We wouldn’t have had anyone to go and try and win the game so we started Haring, which allowed us to get McEneff on.”
Hearts Under-18 players Mackenzie Kirk, Macauley Tait and Luke Rathie were named as substitutes due to the club’s injury problems.
“They’re delighted because they get part of the bonus – a few of them are skipping about,” smirked Neilson. “We had to bring the young ones in and it was a great experience for them. Andy Kirk’s son was on the bench and hopefully he can follow in his dad’s footsteps.”