The Edinburgh club’s manager expects an intense atmosphere when on Sunday with a reduced number of visiting fans inside the ground. Previously given the entire Roseburn Stand, which holds 3,400 people, this time the Rangers support will number just over 1,000.
Hearts fans have responded by buying almost every seat available to them, thereby justifying the club’s decision to prioritise them over travelling supporters. Neilson said he is looking forward to a sellout in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
“I think it’s a brilliant game to be involved in,” he said. “It’s looking like a full house, the biggest crowd since we got the new main stand. When we cut the allocation for Rangers people were saying, ‘would we sell out?’ We have sold out and we probably could’ve sold more.
“That just shows the strength of the club and fanbase. They’re all desperate to come and I think Sunday’s going to be a brilliant atmosphere.”
Public backing is crucial to Hearts’ aspirations of qualifying for European competition this season. Neilson said he signed players who would appeal to fans through their energetic and committed approach.
“The team is doing well. The key for me is that we have a group of players that are working hard, they want to do well,” he added. “The club want to do well for them, they want to do well for the club and the fans can see that. We’ve got guys just now that will run, tackle and give energy. If you give that as a Hearts player, the fans will love you.
“It’s what we tried to recruit. I played here for 13 years and managed here for a few years, so I know what the fans want. They want energy. You might not have the best ability, but if you run about and give everything for the Hearts strip then they will back you to the hilt.
“You could have all the ability in the world but don’t run about and they’re not having you. That’s just the way it is. That’s why, when we recruited in the summer, we were looking for good characters who will run through brick walls for the club.”
Hearts hope to have defender Michael Smith available after a back injury. Top goalscorer Liam Boyce is in full training despite recent calf and hamstring issues and is expected to play.
Midfielder Beni Baningime is out until nearer the end of the month and Neilson hopes he will be fit to face rivals Hibs on January 3. “Beni’s still recovering so he won’t make the game at the weekend.
“We’re going to try get him back for the game before the derby [against St Johnstone on December 29] if we can. That’s my push on it and see if we can or not. He’s opened his knee up a wee bit. It’s nothing major, he just needs a wee bit of rest and then build it back up again.
“Boycie is 100 per cent. he did a full session on Friday, Michael just did half a session, so he’ll do it all on Saturday and then we’ll make a decision on him.”