ROBBIE NEILSON has praised Hearts’ defenders for overcoming adversity to find some solidity in recent matches.
The Tynecastle side have been operating with a new-look defence this season following the summer arrivals of Blazej Augustyn, Juwon Oshaniwa and Igor Rossi and the exits of Danny Wilson, Brad McKay, Adam Eckersley and Kevin McHattie.
With Augustyn and Ozturk, who started the season well short of match fitness, both having spells out injured and full-backs Paterson and Oshaniwa missing games through suspension, the backline has lacked continuity and toiled to find cohesion in the early weeks of the campaign.
The defence was widely questioned as Hearts conceded 12 goals in their opening eight league games, particularly after the 3-1 defeat by Aberdeen last month. However, after Sunday’s scrappy 1-0 win at Dundee United, they have now lost just one goal in their last three Premiership matches.
“The clean sheet was good for the defence,” said head coach Neilson. “That’s two clean sheets in three games which is pleasing. We’re not giving up many opportunities now, but we still need more work as a back four. Ozturk’s out, Augustyn’s been out, Paterson was out on Sunday and Oshaniwa went off so we’re finding it difficult to get a steady back four. We went through the majority of last season with no injuries to our back four, which gives you a base to build on, but it’s something we’ll just need to deal with at the moment.”
Neilson was encouraged by the contributions of young stand-ins Jordan McGhee and Liam Smith on Sunday. McGhee made his first league start of the campaign at right-back while fellow 19-year-old Smith came on in the 71st minute for his league debut.
“I was really happy with Jordan and Liam,” he said. “They’re two young kids from the academy who came in and did brilliantly f and they’re both top prospects. Jordan started at right-back and was great, then he went across to left-back and was solid. Smith came on at a time when we were under the cosh and dealt with a lot of things. He won some good headers and showed really good positioning. I was delighted with him.”