First Team

Robbie: Defence on top

19th December 2015

Head coach praises ten-man Jambos after hard fought 0-0 at McDiarmid Park.

Robbie Neilson declared himself satisfied as Hearts battled to earn a deserved point at McDiarmid Park after playing for over an hour with ten men.

Juanma saw red in the first half after a clash with David Wotherspoon of St Johnstone, and the hosts had an array of chances to win the game, none more so than when Steven McLean rocketed a penalty kick over the bar.

However, a combination of outstanding goalkeeping, tremendous defending and good fortune left the contest at a stalemate, as the Jambos retained third place over their nearest rivals.

After the match, Robbie declined to offer much comment regarding the Spaniard’s sending off, simply offering that he would assess the video analysis before deciding on the next step.

“I saw a coming together of two players, but I’ll need to see the video replay again before I decide on an appeal or not,” he said.

Admitting his disappointment at having to adjust his game plan, the head coach admitted he was very pleased with his side’s resolve, pointing out yet again that the team prepares for all scenarios in matches.

“Before the red card, I thought we were playing well and looking the better side,” said Robbie. “We were comfortable, passing the ball around nicely and looked likely to win the game.

“After the red card, we defended stoutly, never resorted to aimless passing and we looked dangerous on the break. Admittedly, with the chances they had, a win for us would have been daylight robbery.

“We want to win every game, but given the circumstances, I’m pleased with the point and the performance overall.”

Neilson also took the time to single out some players for special praise, with Neil Alexander producing a man-of-the-match display to deny St Johnstone on numerous occasions.

He also revealed his delight with Osman Sow - struggling with injury for most of the match - subs Jordan McGhee and Gavin Reilly, and his back four, who kept yet another clean sheet.

“We work a lot in training, as you know, playing with ten men,” he continued. “We also practice playing against ten men, with nine men, and so on and so forth, so the players didn’t need told what to do.

“Push back into two banks of four and narrow the midfield, defend the crosses and break quickly, which we have the ability to do with Osman up front, who’s strong and fast.

“He had a hamstring issue during the week, and I’d only intended on giving him an hour, but he had to give us a bit more so he was dying on his feet by the time he came off.

“In a game like this, you need everyone to dig in. I thought our back four did terrifically well, especially Oshaniwa who kept O’Halloran very quiet. Neil made some great saves, but we expect that of him.

“Jordan came on at right midfield, and he brought maturity to the side despite his age, winning headers and flick-ons, and retaining the ball. Reilly worked hard and didn’t let them have time on the ball at the back.

“The back four all need to play at the top of their game for us not to lose this match, and they all did, so I was really pleased with all four of them.”