The dressing-room chat which inspired Hearts' win against Dundee
Players and coaches at Hearts spoke about asserting themselves better before Saturday’s win over Dundee took them 15 points clear in the Championship title race.
Manager Robbie Neilson revealed that a pre-match chat inspired his team to a 2-1 victory at Tynecastle Park after three successive 1-1 draws.
Pinpointing competition for places as another key factor, Neilson told the Evening News how his team are continuing to improve.
Andy Halliday’s header and Armand Gnanduillet’s goal put them 2-0 ahead before Jason Cummings’ penalty halved the deficit for Dundee.
Hearts saw out a nervous ending to earn three vital points – despite Peter Haring’s late red card – and take another step nearer automatic promotion.
“We spoke before the game and said: 'This is Hearts. We should be winning these games,'” said Neilson. “We should be winning, dominating, creating chances and scoring goals. That should be the case going into every game, whether you're one point ahead or 15 points ahead.
“There is competition for places as well, which is helping. You saw Armand Gnanduillet coming back into the team on Saturday, Jamie Walker on the bench, Aidy White coming back into it, Haring coming back into it even though he got sent off.
“It's a good squad here and it's important we get them all ready for the run-in.”
Gnanduillet partnered Liam Boyce in a two-man forward line ahead of a diamond midfield. Neilson felt the new shape had the desired effect with a number of clear scoring chances created.
“I think having two up front in a diamond helped us,” he said. “We've been trying to get Boyce and Gnanduillet in the team together for a while, but we just felt Armand wasn't quite ready yet. He got a bit of game time here and there so we decided to put him in at the weekend.
“Then it was a decision on how do you fit him in and play two up front against Dundee, who are quite direct with balls into their strikers. They look for knockdowns and second balls so you have to flood that central area.
“We just felt that a diamond was best to play against them, also because of our personnel. We had Andy Irving sitting and Halliday and McEneff either side, then Mackay-Steven at the tip. I was pleased with it.
“Will we stick with it? I don't know. There is definitely a wee bit of tweaking in there if we do.”
Hearts now hope to secure the Championship title as quickly as possible with eight league games remaining. Neilson also has one addition target.
“We're seven undefeated so we're still pushing forward,” he said. “I know we had a few draws. We created a number of chances on Saturday and didn't put the game to bed like we should have, so we still have a bit of work to do there.
“I'm pleased with where we are but it's about getting over the line – and then having a good Scottish Cup run.”