Neilson: Upcoming games are Hearts’ toughest yet

Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson
Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson
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ROBBIE NEILSON today warned Hearts that upcoming league matches with Falkirk, Dumbarton and Cowdenbeath could prove more difficult than games against Rangers and Hibs.

The head coach advised his players they must remain patient against teams likely to defend in numbers in an attempt to frustrate Hearts.

The Tynecastle club have three wins from three so far in the Championship and sit top of the table entering tomorrow’s match with Falkirk. They beat Rangers 2-1 at Ibrox and won the Edinburgh derby by the same scoreline before a 4-0 defeat of Raith last weekend.

Falkirk’s visit to Gorgie precedes a trip to Dumbarton and another home fixture against Cowdenbeath. Neilson admitted that lower-profile matches against seasoned Championship clubs have the potential for an upset.

“These games are probably harder to play in,” he explained. “Firstly, you’re the favourites and the other team are the underdogs. They can sit in and make it very difficult for you to break them down. These teams are experienced with players who have played for years. These guys know the game even if they haven’t made it to the top level.

“If the game isn’t open, we might have a lot of possession but it can be hard to break teams down. Sometimes we need to be patient, take our time and eventually we will get in. We speak about that all the time at Hearts – about being disciplined and patient.

“It might be the case that we go and play Dumbarton, for example, and it takes until the 75th minute to get a goal. It’s important we keep doing what we can do until we get that breakthrough.”

Jamie MacDonald returns to Tynecastle as Falkirk’s goalkeeper just three months after he was released by Neilson and Craig Levein, Hearts’ director of football. Neilson expects the 28-year-old to perform at his best in front of the home fans.

“I had a good relationship with Jamie, it was just the situation at the club at the time,” he said. “I felt it was better that he moved on. He’s gone to Falkirk and done well and there’s no denying he is a very good keeper. I think he’ll come back on Saturday and do what he’s always done at Tynecastle – put on a good show. Jamie is a good character and a good type. Falkirk have done very well to get him. I expected him to stay in the Premiership but the lure of Peter Houston going there, a team trying for promotion, a good environment and a good coach has persuaded him to go there.”

Falkirk lost one of their prize assets this week when Conor McGrandles joined Norwich City in a deal worth £1 million including add-ons.

“We’re all selling clubs in Scotland, right from the top down to the very bottom,” he said.

“Falkirk got an offer they couldn’t refuse and it’s great for the boy. He’s a good kid and he’ll go down there with Gary Holt (former Falkirk manager), who will bed him in smoothly.

“I wouldn’t say McGrandles not being there makes Falkirk any less of a threat because they still have guys like Craig Sibbald, Blair Alston and Alex Cooper who can fill the gap.”

Meanwhile, Hearts’ League Cup third-round tie away to Celtic on Wednesday, September 24 will be broadcast live by BBC1 Scotland. The match will kick off at 7.15pm.