Robbie Neilson was delighted as Hearts got their Ladbrokes Premiership campaign off to a flyer with a dramatic 4-3 win in a sensational game at Tynecastle.
The Jambos opened their season with three points in front of a sold-out home support as Ann Budge unfurled the league championship flag before the match.
Juanma opened the scoring after three minutes to give Hearts a dream start, and Jamie Walker stabbed home after the restart. Simon Lappin pulled one back for the Saintees before Callum Paterson fired home immediately after.
The away side astonishingly drew level through John Sutton and Graham Cummins before Sam Nicholson scored instantly to put the Jambos back in front, and this time they held on despite late pressure.
“We knew it would be hard today,” said Neilson. “All the pressure was on us. Winning the league by so many points, the fans expecting a win, unfurling the league flag, all of this put the attention on us."
Although annoyed at the manner of the goals his side lost, Robbie was sanguine about the matter, insisting once the team gets to play together more, things would look much tighter in defence. He also highlighted the lack of pre-season action the likes of the back four and Prince Buaben had experienced over the summer.
“You’re always annoyed to lose any goals, and the ones we lost were poor, but I know that won’t be a regular thing. That back four has never played together before, a lot of them haven’t had a chance to play together yet as a unit, so that chemistry will come later.”
“The team today was patched together,” he continued. “Some players haven’t had a pre-season really. Buaben’s only trained five days, after I told him I needed him. He said he was struggling at half-time, I asked him for 10 more minutes and he finished the game. I knew we’d struggle in the last half-hour.”
Despite being pulled level by St Johnstone, Robbie was thrilled with the way the team responded by retaking the lead thanks to some superb work from Paterson and Nicholson, harking back to last season’s relentless side which pummelled teams all the way to the final whistle.
“Last season held us in good stead, we won so many games in the last 10 minutes of matches that we still have that spirit and belief that the game can still be won even when we’ve taken a blow. At 3-3 a lot of teams would crumble but we have that extra belief.”
Lastly, Neilson reserved words of praise for hitman Juanma, who scored a debut goal and earned a man-of-the-match award in his first start for the club, and revealed there was plenty more to come from the Spanish powerhouse.
“Juanma is a very good player, that’s why we were so keen to sign him up. He brings a lot to the table, he’s got the strength and physicality of the Scottish game, but he’s also got pace and skill. He’s not nearly fit enough yet, so there’s a lot more to come from him.”