Robbie Neilson hopes yesterday’s “nervy” win over Dundee United can be the catalyst for Hearts to kick on and challenge stuttering Aberdeen for second place in the Premiership.
The Tynecastle side ended a five-game run without a league win after Juanma Delgado’s first-half penalty settled an occasionally feisty match against the league’s bottom side, who were under the management of former Hibs player and boss Mixu Paatelainen for the first time.
The result took Hearts back above this weekend’s opponents Ross County into third place and within four points of Aberdeen, who have lost their last four games in all competitions.
Despite being highly critical of his side’s display at Tannadice, head coach Neilson believes their first league win in almost two months can remove any anxiety from their play and help them get back to the type of form that allowed them to win each of their first five games in the top flight.
“The resilience was good but the football’s got to be better,” he said. “I think there was a bit of a nervousness about the team because they were desperate to get three points. That’s their first three points since the end of August so it’s been a long wait for them. The pressure has been more external, when people outside start talking about it, but the performances have generally been good and we’ve been creating chances.
“Now that we’ve got three points, hopefully we can start to build on that, starting against Ross County next week. Aberdeen are four points ahead of us and that’s definitely something we’re aiming at. We always have to look ahead and not look behind us. We want to keep building.”
Hearts lost both Miguel Pallardo and Juwon Oshaniwa to injuries in the 71st minute of yesterday’s game. Midfielder Pallardo is expected to be available for Saturday’s visit of County, but Oshaniwa’s injury was of slightly more concern to Neilson.
Pallardo will be fine. He’s just got a dead calf. He should be back [training] in the next two or three days. Oshaniwa’s one we’ll need to take a look at. He thinks he’s got a slight tear but we’re hopeful it’s just a spasm. It’s shouldn’t be too bad because he was able to walk off. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Meanwhile Hearts’ development squad are in action tonight when they face St Johnstone at Ochilview (7.30pm kick-off). Gavin Reilly, who was suspended for the first team yesterday, is expected to feature, while Soufian El Hassnaoui could be given a short run-out as he steps up his comeback bid following three months out with a knee injury.