Robbie Neilson's message to Hearts match-winner Jamie Walker - plus John Souttar injury update ahead of Celtic league opener
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson wants Jamie Walker influencing games for 90 minutes as he revealed the winger is working hard to improve fitness levels.
Walker scored the winner against Inverness Caledonian Thistle just ten minutes after his introduction as a 65th minute substitute. But for several magnificent saves by the visiting goalkeeper Mark Ridgers, the Edinburgh club could have scored four or five in their final Premier Sports Cup group tie.
Walker’s goal decided it but Hearts missed out on a seeding for the knockout round by one goal – and landed a trip to Celtic. Neilson wasn’t overly perturbed and instead explained that Walker, who has yet to start a competitive game this season, is gradually nearing top condition.
“I thought he was great when he came on. The game started to open up and he gets into pockets of space,” said Neilson. “He is probably one of the best we've got when it's like that – taking the ball and driving at defences. He just needs to work on his fitness so he can do that for 90 minutes.
“He needs to keep working away. For me, fitness is a massive part of the game. He had a few niggles last season and through pre-season so he needs to keep building at it. To his credit, he is working extremely hard to be as fit as he can be.
“We want him to get to a stage where he's doing that from minute one. Technically, he's probably one of the best players we've got. It's the other side of it we need to continue to work at.”
With some teams benefitting from 3-0 results due to Covid-enforced postponements in the Premier Sports Cup, Neilson joked: “It would have been better if the game had been cancelled today. We won all our games and haven't conceded a goal. Yes we'd have liked to have scored loads of goals but teams make it difficult and sit in.
“I don't know how they look at it and what else they could do. If it was a 1-0 victory then teams might say they could have won the game 3-0 or 4-0. It's just part parcel and we need to deal with it.
“We didn't get seeded but we won four out of four. The nature of this season, teams will get 3-0 victories for games getting postponed which is always going to make it difficult. I can't really ask any more of the players. We created loads of chances and were sound defensively.”
Craig Gordon’s 11th successive clean sheet was one positive and, although John Souttar missed the match with a knock, Neilson reported that it is not serious. He should be available for Saturday’s opening Premiership match at home to Celtic.
“John is fine. It was probably a wee bit too early today for him but he will train on Wednesday with a view to being ready for Saturday. I don't want to talk too much in case we jinx Craig’s clean sheets. He's been exceptional since day one when he came back here. He brings a calmness to the back four and if we need him he produces.”