“Flair players are going to get smashed, that’s just what happens in Scottish football” – Robbie Neilson
Robbie Neilson and Jim Goodwin reflect on Hearts’ 2-1 victory over St Mirren. Jamie McIntosh reports.
Joe Shaughnessy’s 85th minute header meant Hearts had to batten down the hatches and prepare for a St Mirren onslaught in the final moments.
St Mirren striker Kristian Dennis was shown a straight red card at the restart for an elbow on Hearts midfielder Peter Haring, which certainly helped Hearts to see out the match.
Robbie Neilson’s side now top the cinch Premiership with their rivals in action later today. The Hearts boss was delighted to take three points back to the capital.
“I’m pleased with the start, but we keep emphasising it’s just a start. We go to Celtic Park next Sunday in the League Cup after two good results. It was 2010 last time we won here in the league and it’s a very difficult place to get three points.”
Despite Stephen Kingsley’s absence through illness, Hearts stuck with the 3-4-3 formation which has served them well this season. Their opponents played with two up top and Neilson was full of praise for the Curtis Main and Eamonn Brophy partnership.
“I watched a lot of St Mirren, and they have a lot of cohesion because they’ve kept a lot of players for the last couple of years. They all know each other’s game and they cause problems because they have physicality and pace up front.
“In my opinion, the two strikers for St Mirren as a pair are probably the best in the league, because they work so well together. One will come short the other will spin, the physicality they bring, and they win flick-ons.”
Liam Boyce bagged his first league goal of the campaign and Neilson lauded both his side’s goal scorers.
“Boyce started up front, then back into No.10, then back into midfield, then back up again and eventually we took him off. He’s very adaptable. He will pick up pockets and get the ball. I thought Andy Halliday did well as well. I asked him to play wing-back, and it was a great finish for his goal.”
Like they did against Celtic, Hearts were punished for dropping too deep. That being said, apart from the conceded goal, it was another solid defensive display from Hearts.
“We knew they would have the ball at times”, admitted Neilson.
“As soon as you step out to press they bang it over the top. We had to give the ball up a wee bit to make sure we picked up the second ball. I thought our back three did very well, especially a young boy like Alex Cochrane against the physicality of Main and Brophy.”
The Hearts boss did take exception to some of St Mirren’s challenges on Gary Mackay-Steven and explained that sometimes the only way to stop the winger is to wipe him out.
“I don’t want to complain too much but a few of the challenges weren’t acceptable, especially the one in the first minute where there’s an elbow in his face. The fourth official is five yards away and doesn’t give anything.
“That challenge for me just isn’t good enough. Gary is technically a brilliant player and the only way a lot of teams will stop him is just by trying to smash him.
“Flair players are going to get smashed, that’s just what happens in Scottish football. I don’t like it. It happened 15 or 20 years ago but nowadays you shouldn’t be doing it. It’s getting better but when we (Scottish teams) go into Europe, Scottish players go and smash people and they get sent off.
“Even one where he gets injured and I get booked, if that’s how the referee wants to deal with it then we just need to deal with it.”
Buddies boss Jim Goodwin felt his side were unlucky to lose the game, but he insisted his striker Dennis isn’t a dirty player.
“Yeah very frustrating. The first twenty minutes we didn’t do well enough, and Hearts deservedly went in front at that moment in time.
“It took us until after the goal to get to grips with the shape and the system and I felt after that we coped better, and we carried more of a threat ourselves.
“Too often a Hearts centre half was stepping into midfield and making up that extra man and we needed to release one of our midfielders a little bit sooner.
“He’s not a nasty player Christian. His disciplinary record down through the years isn’t bad, it’s just one of those things where Haring steps in front of him to try stop him putting pressure on the ball and the referee sends him off.”