Robbie Neilson hails Hearts stars’ will to win

Sam Nicholson and Juanma celebrate the win. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Sam Nicholson and Juanma celebrate the win. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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ROBBIE NEILSON praised Hearts’ character after their League Cup revival and admitted players even ignored his instructions to score a late winner at Kilmarnock.

Two goals inside three minutes at the end took the Edinburgh club past Kilmarnock and into the quarter-finals, but Neilson revealed he ordered his players to stay rigid with the score at 2-2 on 90 minutes.

Sam Nicholson’s winner in the second minute of stoppage time secured a 3-2 victory following strikes by Juanma and Alim Ozturk. Kilmarnock had led 2-1 with just a minute of regulation time thanks to two Josh Magennis goals, however Hearts refused to give in.

“I think we showed belief,” said Neilson “They want to keep going and they’re pushing for the goal. I’m shouting from the sidelines to get them to stay more disciplined. They’re wanting to score more goals and it’s good to see that, we just needed to make sure we didn’t lose any more.

“At 2-1 down, I always thought we’d get back into the game and get to extra-time. I felt we played well at the start and passed it pretty well. We lost a poor goal from a cross into the box but the rest of the first half was quite even. We had a lot of the play in the second half but couldn’t get the goal. Then we get it and give another bad goal away.

“We shouldn’t be coming to Rugby Park and having to score three goals to win with the way we played again. To get the goal and to go again and get the third goal was fantastic, great spirit. It helps us because we don’t have extra-time to deal with before we go to Celtic Park on Saturday. That was always a worry.”

Substitutes Jamie Walker and Juanma combined for the Spaniard’s equaliser on 89 minutes before Nicholson prodded the winner with seconds to go. “They’re good players and we’re starting to get players back and fit,” continued Neilson. “I can turn round to the bench and have a look and say: ‘he can win us the game, he can stop us losing the game’.

“Blazej Augustyn has another 90 minutes under his belt now and Morgaro Gomis is back.

“We look forward to the Parkhead game now. I’m not somebody who looks and says we’ve lost this game and that game. It’s done. Our minds can’t wander when we’re going to Parkhead on Saturday.”

Kilmarnock manager Gary Locke relayed the feeling of despondency within the home dressing room at full-time.

His team looked like they were going through with only minutes left in what was his first time managing against his former club.

“We’re all gutted,” said Locke. “We put so much into the game and played some really good stuff.

“To lose a couple of late goals is a sickener. I didn’t really see it coming. We were 2-1 up and looked comfortable. We played really well in the game and carried on our good form from the last couple of league games.

“The second Hearts goal is a good one from their point of view. It’s a great cross and a good header.

“At the third goal, the boy [Juanma] mis-hits it and it lands right in Nicholson’s path. You need that bit of luck in cup competitions but it eluded us.

“It’s a sickener for us because I felt we played really well in the game. The lads are all sick but if we maintain that level of performance we can do well.”