Robbie Neilson: Hearts manager's message to fans who remain sceptical
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After coming up from the Championship to seal third place in the Premiership by 13 points, securing European group stage football and reaching the Scottish Cup final, the 40-year-old is entitled to feel that he is well ahead of schedule with the progress he has made over the last 12 months but deflects when invited to take personal credit.
“It’s about getting this football club back to where it belongs,” he told the Edinburgh Evening News.
This time last year a vocal minority of Hearts fans who have never really taken to him were making their feelings known on social media and fans message boards as Neilson’s team limped across the finish line to clinch the Championship title.
It came just a few months after the embarrassing Scottish Cup exit at the hands of Highland League Brora Rangers.
Much of the scepticism dates back to his previous spell in charge, once culminating in a flying a plane over Tynecastle carrying a banner that read ‘No style, no bottle, Neilson out’.
Neilson has shoulders broad enough to take any stick that comes his way, but looking back he feels some of the criticism during the final few weeks of last season’s Championship campaign was over the top.
“People think going down to the Championship is a walk in the park, but it’s not,” he explained. “Believe me, it’s difficult. “These teams are very good. They’re organised. It’s a cup final for them against us. It was just about winning the league.”
He appreciates that the sceptics who pay their money are entitled to an opinion, but hopes he can convince them to move on and start talking about the positives.
The dissenting voices have been much quieter during what has been a successful first season back in the top flight, but they haven’t been drowned out altogether.
“When you’re at a big football club, there is going to be flack,” he acknowledged. “That’s part and parcel of it.
“You just need to keep moving forward. The club has moved forward. We have secured third in the league and I hope that next season we’re also talking about finishing third, getting to cup finals and guaranteed European football instead of looking back at all the negative stuff in the past. This club is moving forward so let’s talk about the positives.”
There are plenty of them, on and off the pitch. Hearts sold out their 25,000 allocation for Hampden in no time and season ticket sales for the new season are expected to go up.
“The fans have been unbelievable all season,” added Neilson. “We’re maybe the biggest fan-owned club in the world, certainly Britain.
“The fans put their money in every month. All they ask is for the boys to give everything. I think they saw against Rangers that they gave that.
“It was a difficult extra time but the boys were outstanding. They couldn’t quite get there, but they gave everything.”
Whatever his doubters say, giving everything to improve Hearts is what Neilson continues to do too.