Robbie Neilson was thrilled with his side’s discipline and work rate in the face of an intense Rangers side as the Jambos recorded an impressive 2-0 victory in today’s Scottish Championship encounter at Tynecastle.
The Gers held the upper hand as their physical style of play kept Hearts contained for the first period of the game, until Steven Smith saw red for a late challenge on Callum Paterson.
After the dismissal, the Gorgie side began to impose themselves on proceedings, playing their trademark style of possession football which ultimately tired out the away team.
“I’m really pleased with the result”, explained Robbie. “The game hinged on the red card, because at that point Rangers had the upper hand. It was hard to match their physicality and they were playing with more intensity. Once they went down to 10 men, the game opened up and we had more areas to play in. We just had to bide our time until the chance came."
The physicality of the game was characterised by 42 fouls shared between the sides, as well as nine yellow cards and the solitary red.
The head coach was pleased with the manner in which his side refused to be intimidated by their more powerful rivals, and highlighted the presence of midfield duo Morgaro Gomis and Miguel Pallardo as the key to Hearts keeping their composure.
The Spanish midfielder earned the man-of-the-match award from the sponsors in the stands in his first start at Tynecastle, and Robbie admitted he was delighted with the ex-Levante man’s contribution, although he conceded that his own Spanish lessons weren’t proving quite as fruitful as Miguel’s performances on the park!
“There were lots of strong challenges from both sides, and we knew we had to stand up to them”, he said. “It was a full house, a big atmosphere, so you need to make sure you keep your cool, which our boys managed to do. They’ve got the experience of last season in the top flight, so they know how to handle themselves.
“When you have experience like Morgaro and Miguel in the middle of the park, that takes some of the pressure off the younger players. Just consider the fact that Miguel is a La Liga footballer playing in the Championship in Scotland.
"I was really pleased for him to get his man of the match award today, he’s come in and had to be patient, he didn’t speak any English at all and he’s bided his time. As for my Spanish, I think ‘nada bueno’ would be a good description!”
Finally, Robbie revealed Hearts will be waiting on more news from Kevin McHattie’s injury, with the left-back succumbing to a knee injury sustained in a hefty challenge from Kenny Miller at the start of the second half.
However, he was keen to stress that the squad had the quality to cope, which was proven today by a side missing key players still managing to ensure victory against their nearest title challengers.
“Kevin’s going for a scan, he’s got a bad knock on his knee so we’ll try and find out how bad the damage is," he said.
"Luckily, we have Adam Eckersley who can come in. He’s been really good for us and he was unfortunate to find himself out of the team, so we know we have the quality to cope.
“The players are back in tomorrow morning at 9:30, but I’ve given them a day off on Monday. It’s a special treat for winning today. Well, only some of them are off, not everyone!
"We know there will be a dip at some point this season, but the players deserve all the adulation they get for the hard work they put in.”