Hearts boss Robbie Neilson on club captaincy, Peterhead and new signings settling in

After storming to the Scottish Championship title last season, Hearts are back in action with the return of the League Cup. Jamie McIntosh reports on Robbie Neilson’s pre-match press conference.

(Photo Credit – SNS Group)

The main talking point of this press conference, albeit an unsurprising one, was in the shape of Craig Gordon being announced as the new Hearts captain. 

When Steven Naismith announced his retirement last month, choosing to step into a coaching role, the Hearts stopper was the obvious choice to wear the armband. 

“He’s just a good player, isn’t he?” said Hearts manager Robbie Neilson. 

“Ever since he came in, he’s led by example. You can see his leadership qualities, he’s really experienced, still playing at the highest level, just back from the Euros… He’s probably the only choice we had really. I think it’s the right pick and having spoken with the players they do too, and Craig’s delighted to take the armband, so I’m very happy to have him as captain.” 

“He knows everything about the club, he came through the academy as a kid then got the big move to England, played at the highest level down there. He’s won trophies and brings so much experience to help the younger ones. We’ve had a lot of great captains here down the years and I’m sure Craig will be another one.” 

Hearts have managed to secure the permanent signings of Ross Stewart and Josh Ginnelly, who both spent last season on loan at Hearts. Hearts have also captured the loan signing of Brighton full back Alex Cochrane; Neilson explained his delight at his arrival and said Hearts are monitoring other players south of the border but added it will take time. 

“He [Ginnelly] lit up the games he played in, from our perspective it’s just about making sure he’s fit. Touch wood, he’s had a clear pre-season and he’s looked good in the games so far.”

“I’m really pleased we’ve managed to get Alex in, we’ve got a couple of other areas we’d like to strengthen in, but it’s still very early in the transfer window everywhere else except Scotland because we start competitive games so early, so there’s really not a lot of movement down south, or anywhere really. We’re just waiting for the right players to come up. We’ve got a couple of targets that we hope we’ll get in, but we’re still waiting for their final decision.” 

After a slow start, Gary Mackay-Steven came to the fore towards the end of Hearts’ Championship-winning season and is continuing to improve along with fellow January arrivals Armand Gnanduillet and Aaron McEneff. 

“We were looking at these three guys for the Premiership season when we brought them in in January. Gary looked excellent the last six or so games of the season and he’s carried that into pre-season, Armand is the same. Aaron was just all about adapting to Scottish football really, but they’re all looking sharp in training.” 

The Hearts boss has been working alongside Sporting Director Joe Savage and Neilson believes Hearts have a good squad, which just needs some extra quality thrown into the mix.

“The main positive for us is, we’ve got a strong squad, we’re not desperate for players, we can put out a good side and have a strong bench as well, it’s just about adding that wee bit of quality to it now.”

“Joe’s been great, his experience of England is great. The hardest part is getting the deal done, dealing with agents and contract negotiations, so having Joe go away and deal with that is great.

Neilson has a full squad to pick from for Saturday’s trip to Peterhead and Hearts have bad memories of the Balmoor Stadium having lost 2-1 to the Blue Toon in the same competition back in 2017.

“We’ll train tomorrow and then travel up, everybody’s fine, so hopefully everyone’s ready.”

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