Hearts’ dire record at Rangers and Celtic laid bare – how Robbie Neilson takes club to next level


Hearts manager Robbie Neilson. (Photo by Ross Parker/SNS Group)

Something which can be of no surprise to anyone at the club was the level of debate which surrounded the latest defeat suffered along the M8, considering the scoreline, the way the team reacted to the second goal and the general all round performance, barring those encouraging signs at the start of the second half.

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There were some who vented fury at Neilson and questioned his ability to take the club to the next level – which is closing the gap to Celtic and Rangers. On the flipside you had those offering a reminder that the team are comfortable in third. And then those who noted Hearts’ poor record in Glasgow going back decades.

Hearts have a terrible record at Pakrhead and Ibrox. (Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group)

‘Work-in-progress’

Now, calls for the head coach to be replaced or suggestions that is something Hearts and sporting director Joe Savage should be looking at are reactionary and largely unhelpful. Neilson has, for the second time, provided himself a dab hand at coming into the club when the team needed plenty of TLC and provided it.

Has there been progress since he took over in the summer of 2020? Absolutely. Is he a more rounded manager on and off the field from his first stint? Again, yes.

In football, getting from A to B is far from linear but Hearts are heading on an upward trajectory while rivals flounder below them. It would be highly unlikely and an absolute disaster, considering their current position, if the team didn’t finish third, return to Europe and, depending on who wins the Scottish Cup, be playing in the group stages.

The team itself is still a work in progress and there have been some misses amongst the hits in the transfer window but the profile of players the club are going to make sense on the field and off the field.

However, that progress, the comfortable place in third should not mean Neilson and the team are exempt from criticism.

The team clearly missed John Souttar and Craig Halkett at Ibrox, although the way Alfredo Morelos played, few would have been able to handle the Colombian. But, in the role of Monday morning quarter-back, there were pertinent questions surrounding the line-up at Ibrox. It was unclear what Aaron McEneff’s role was before being hooked at half-time. And, as was witnessed, in different stages of the match, the Rangers defense is fallible which begs the question, why not start Ellis Simms, who would have made it a far more uncomfortable afternoon for Connor Goldson, Leon Balogun et al.

Winning in Glasgow

To suggest Neilson is content with a draw or plays to keep the score down in Glasgow is well wide of the mark. The 41-year-old has ambitions for the club and has spoken about making the step to close the gap to Celtic and Rangers. But that will involve changing what has been a terrible record in Scotland’s second city.

“Winning in Glasgow is something we spoke about at the start of the season and something we want to do,” he said. “It has been a long, long time since Hearts have been able to do that consistently and we have still not done it.”

It is not quite as simple as flicking a switch. Celtic and Rangers are better, have more resources and have the backing of boisterous home supports, especially when Hearts are in town. And it’s not quite as simple as ‘having a go’. There is a fine balancing act required, not to be too negative but at the same time don’t fall into being too naive. It is something the team did very well in their previous visit to Ibrox, securing a 1-1 draw.

One thing is for absolute certain, however, Hearts, for a team with the third best Scottish top-flight points record, should be expected to have a much better record than they currently do.

Mindset change

Since the 1997/98 season, Hearts have played at Parkhead and Ibrox a combined 85 times in the league (top-flight only). Their win ratio currently sits at 5.9 per cent. There have been five victories in that time and a staggering 65 defeats.

The ‘but it has always been that way’ excuse doesn’t cut it with those figures. It’s a mindset which needs to change throughout the club if progress is to be made. Much of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of Neilson and his coaching staff from him to do that in the next step in the club’s evolution.

Sunday’s game was seen as a ‘free hit’ by some with Motherwell, Aberdeen and Hibs all having lost. Again, no league game should be considered a ‘free hit’. They should all be treated with the same ‘win’ mentality.

Hearts are in a strong position. Yes, the competition have their faults and have been hugely inconsistent but at the same time some excellent work has been done across the last 12 months at Tynecastle Park. Now, having won just once in ten games this league campaign against Celtic, Rangers, Hibs and Aberdeen, the next step short term is getting back to winning the big matches in the Premiership but looking further ahead being a different animal, a competitive one, when traveling along the M8.

Those will help define Robbie Neilson’s second spell in charge at Hearts.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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