First Team

Focus is on Hearts

15th November 2014

Robbie Neilson pleased with victory and admits he only has eyes for Hearts, not opposition.

Robbie Neilson praised his side’s “best half of football” this season as Hearts extended their lead at the top of the Scottish Championship to six points after this evening’s win at the Falkirk Stadium.

First half strikes from Kevin McHattie and Soufian El Hassnaoui proved enough in the end as, despite Botti Biabi’s late effort, the Jambos held firm to gain a vital victory after title challengers Rangers drew at home with Alloa Athletic earlier in the day.

The importance of the win wasn’t lost on the head coach, who conceded that he felt this match might prove to be a stumbling block for his side in the build-up to kick-off.

“I know Falkirk are a good team”, said Robbie. “They scored six goals in their last home match, so any kind of win today was going to be a good result. I thought the first half, in particular, was the best we’ve played this season.

"We created numerous good chances, our passing was on point and we controlled the tempo of the game. In the second half, we showed our other qualities. Strength, aggression, working hard for each other, we showed real mettle."

After such a dominant first period, the onus was on the home side to try and battle their way back into the match, which they did to a certain extent, as some competitive tackling in the middle of the park caused some nervous moments for both teams.

Neilson, however, relished the chance for his team to get involved and prove they could handle the fight, and that they weren't just a team that played pretty football.

"If a team is dominating a match, then the opposition will try to get in about you and see if you fancy a battle. We spoke at half time about this, and we knew it would happen, but our guys in there are strong.

"If any of our players are getting unwarranted treatment, we know that we have boys who will step in and sort the opposition out."

Another pleasing element to the victory today was the manner in which Robbie was able to rotate his team, with Miguel Pallardo making his first start and Kevin McHattie returning to the fold for the first time since August, with both players slotting in seamlessly.

This strength in depth is what could prove crucial for Hearts in the long run as they look to maintain their position as the pace setters in the division, although Robbie admitted he had an issue in that he couldn't play everyone!

"A strong squad can be the difference in a title race. We have a group of probably 18 players who should all be playing first team football, but not all of them are. I speak to them more regularly than those who play in the starting line-up, if I'm honest.

"However, as I've told them, we are going to need all of them over the course of the season, they will all have their chance to shine and so far they've all done everything I've asked of them.

"Kevin did really well today, and he scored a terrific goal. I thought Jason Holt was fantastic when he came on, he had guile and energy and used the ball intelligently, and James Keatings looked extremely sharp while he was on."

Finally, attention moves to next weekend's clash with Rangers, as the two sides meet for the first time since the opening day of the season, where Hearts were victorious through Osman Sow's injury time winner.

With Rangers dropping points today, Robbie could be forgiven for thinking that his team had received a huge boost, but the former skipper admitted that he had no interest in what other teams had to say on - or off - the pitch, as his focus was purely on Hearts.

"We can only look at ourselves and try to do all the right things, through working hard. At the end of the season, what will be will be. If we're top, then we're top, so be it."