“We’ve got guys who want to be here” – Neilson on win over Motherwell and trip to Glasgow
A satisfied Robbie Neilson discussed Hearts’ 2-0 victory with the press at Tynecastle on Saturday afternoon. Jack Donnelly reports.
Hearts climbed to the top of the cinch Premiership table on Saturday afternoon, defeating Motherwell 2-0 at Tynecastle and keeping their unbeaten run intact.
An early penalty from Liam Boyce and a free kick from Stephen Kingsley wrapped up the three points for the Jambos, who controlled the game and limited the Steelmen to very little.
The win stemmed Motherwell’s unbeaten run at just five games, while Hearts go into the international break having still to lose a league game this season.
“I thought in the first half, we played really, really well,” said a satisfied Robbie Neilson.
“Second half, not so much, we didn’t pass it as well, but we’re playing against a team who are sitting in fourth place. They’ve had a brilliant start to the season, so we’ve got to be pleased with the overall performance.”
While there were a couple of players that stood out in this match, Neilson could be proud of the team performance that resulted in this win, with every man on the park battling hard for one another. Considering that last season’s Hearts squad was criticised for numerous reasons, Neilson explained the differences between the two squads.
“I think we’ve got 18 outfield players and two goalies that could play at any top six in Scotland, so we’ve got strength in depth. We’ve got a lot of energy in the team, but the biggest thing for me is we’ve got 20 first team players that want to be here and want to do well for the club.
“Last season, when I came in, we didn’t have that, but now we’ve got guys that want to be here and want to do well.”
Beni Baningime was named Man of the Match at the end of the 90 minutes and he, alongside midfield partner Cameron Devlin, put in another top performance for the Jambos. Neilson spoke on the duo, and what makes them so effective in the middle of the park.
“They’re two good players. When we decided we were going to play that formation last season, we needed players like that in there.
“They can deal with the ball, but also have that energy to get about, and close people down and press. The two of them were excellent today.”
One of Hearts’ top performers this season, John Souttar, missed this game due to injury, and fans would have feared the worst when Craig Halkett was forced off early in the second half. Neilson was able to put minds at ease after the match with an update on the defensive pair.
“He’ll be fine [Halkett]. He had a back spasm last week, took a couple of days to settle down, and it happened again during the game, so he’ll be fine. A couple of days off, then two weeks to get ready, so he’ll be alright.
“Souttar will be fine – I was hoping for him for this game, but he did some work yesterday and just wasn’t quite right, so I would expect in two weeks’ time he should be fine.”
Up next for Hearts is another massive clash – the Gorgie side will travel to Ibrox to face champions Rangers and given how they have started the season so far, there is a sense of expectation for Hearts to be competing at the top of the table from here on in.
“We’re only eight games in,” said Neilson in his initial response.
“We’ve already had a lot of challenges this season. The first one for us was, ‘Can we improve the away record?’ Playing at Tynecastle, historically, we win the majority of games. Away from home, in the last 15, 20 years, I think only once Hearts have won more than 50% of games.
“That was the first thing for us to try and rectify and the second one, we spoke about it at the start of the season, is whether we can go to Glasgow and win. That’s the next challenge for us – we’ve got that in two weeks’ time. It’s going to be tough, but no matter what happens tomorrow, we’ll go to Ibrox being close to them.
“We’ve got a lot of young players in this team. We’ve got [Alex] Cochrane, Baningime, Devlin, [Ben] Woodburn… we’ve got young guys who are improving all the time. It’s another test for them to go there, and it’ll be tough, but they’ve got a belief that they can go and perform.
“We beat Celtic here, but it’s a difference beast when you go through to Glasgow, so we need to be ready for that. We’ve got players that can handle the ball, players that can work defensively, so we’ll go there and give it a shot.”
For Neilson, the focus for Hearts is keeping as focussed as possible so that the club can continue to be at the top end of the table and be competitive.
“We’re up there at the moment, but the key is whether you can do it consistently. We’re sitting on a high right now, there’s going to be a low – we’re eight games in and yet to lose a game, we just don’t want it to be the next week, or the week after. We’ll just keep going and going.
“We’ve got a good group, but I keep saying it; we’re only eight games in.”