Robbie Neilson is adamant that Hearts won’t be knocked out of their stride by their galling Scottish Cup exit at the hands of Hibs.
The Tynecastle lost 1-0 in Tuesday’s fifth-round replay at Easter Road after squandering a 2-0 lead at home to their city rivals in the first game nine days earlier. The performance and result have drawn fierce criticism from sections of the support over the last few days, with some questioning Neilson over the fact he has now presided over five consecutive Edinburgh derbies without a victory.
While disappointed by arguably the biggest setback of his 21-month reign, the head coach explained that there will be no overreaction within the Hearts camp and insisted that the focus remains on maintaining the clear and rapid progress that has been made following the club’s emergence from administration less than two years ago.
“There’s always going to be a backlash from a cup game and especially a derby but you have to accept it,” said Neilson. “You take it in the chin and you move on and you try to win the next game, then the next one and then the next one and you keep going and hopefully get back on a run again.
“Every game you lose is a disappointment. We got turned over at home by Aberdeen earlier this season and that was a huge disappointment. Losing in the cups to Celtic last season was also disappointing, but you have to be careful that you don’t overreact. We have a lot of young players who are still developing and the older ones aren’t that experienced in Scottish football so we have to be mindful of that. We can’t overreact on the basis of ninety minutes.”
With just one league defeat since September, Neilson is confident his side, who sit 11 points clear in third place in the Premiership, can banish their derby disappointment by getting back on track away to bottom-of-the-table Dundee United today. He doesn’t envisage defeat to Hibs derailing them as they strive to make a long-term impact at the top end of Scottish football.
“You have to accept that you will lose some football matches and then it’s how you react to it,” said Neilson. “We have not had many setbacks and that means when you do get one then it gets blown up but the players have generally reacted really well and there’s not really been a period when they have lost focus. It would be easy to get in a negative state of mind if you lose certain games but you have to keep going and stay positive and keep building. I believe that the squad we have here is superior to the squad we had last year and I think when we get to the summer we will build again and bring people in and put people out and we can take another step. The steps we have made so far have been really good and I am pleased with the players and how they have handled the step up to the top flight. We have had a great 18 months to two years almost and progressed a lot but there is still a lot of development in the players.
“I think we have a really good group just now and the players we have got under contract will have more experience for next season and that will give us the chance to push on again.”