Gary Mackay: Why Hearts boss Robbie Neilson doesn’t need to reveal his hand at Tynecastle

It will be interesting to see if Robbie Neilson shows his hand on Saturday in the first game of the derby double header. He doesn’t have to.

By Gary Mackay
Thursday, 8th April 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 6th April 2022, 6:01 pm
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson can afford to tweak things for the first derby so the team peak in the second one at Hampden
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson can afford to tweak things for the first derby so the team peak in the second one at Hampden

He will be thinking about both games together rather than treating them in isolation. Saturday is important, but winning the derby the following week would be the cherry on the cake.

Hibs have to win this Saturday. They have to play their strongest team because they are looking to try to get top six and that means a lot to the club financially and in terms of achievement on the pitch.

But for Hearts, it’s not a must-win at Tynecastle this Saturday. The cup tie is more important. As well as finishing third in the league, Hearts could also be in the final with an opportunity to lift the Scottish Cup.

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So Robbie can hold something back. He can think about a particular formation to play at Tynecastle, which is a tighter ground and will make for a really competitive match, and then change things for Hampden. The game the following week is on a bigger playing surface and Hearts will be able to play a bit more expansively.

The injury situation means we could be without both Beni Baningime and Cammy Devlin. If that’s the case, Robbie might protect Peter Haring this weekend because it is massively important to have a recognised holding central midfield player at Hampden.

There are options. I like Aaron McEneff. I think with a run of games, he is someone who can create and get a goal. Haring has never let us down and Andy Halliday has great experience.

Michael Smith has played as a holding midfield player on occasion, so that could be something he thinks about. Alternatively, he could do that and also play Haring, allowing the Austrian to be more of a goal threat going into the box and at set pieces.

In terms of selection, it’s really difficult for Robbie this weekend. But the team have put themselves in such a good position in the league that he can afford to tweak things and maybe even have a look at a couple of things with the following week in mind.

He can do that in the knowledge that with guys like Craig Gordon, Craig Halkett and Liam Boyce in your side, you have a spine to carry Hearts through.

In a short period of time, Robbie and Joe Savage have put a really competitive squad together. There have been one or two injuries, but Hearts have been able to overcome them.

I’d take a point this weekend if it meant winning at Hampden and proving we are the top team in the city. The league table shows that. There is no dubiety.

On paper, Hearts have a stronger squad, a more settled squad. So everything seems to favour Hearts. But we shouldn’t get overly confident. In a derby it just takes a sending off or a mistake and things can change very quickly.

The players need to focus on what the next two weeks could really mean for them. It would be an outstanding achievement to qualify for Europe and reach a cup final.

It would also be a real tribute to the resilience that Robbie, his coaching staff and the squad have show all season.

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