Robbie Neilson in bold Rangers statement as Hearts boss begins next stage of Jambos rebuild

Robbie Neilson admits Hearts are still “four or five years” off Rangers’ level as he gets to work on reducing the gap.

The gutted Gorgie boss insists all eyes at Tynecastle immediately turned to recruitment after Saturday’s Scottish Cup Final defeat to the Ibrox side.

Despite only one place separating the sides in the Premiership, Rangers finished 28 points clear of Hearts.

But Neilson is determined to cut the gap step by step. And after completing stage one of the mission by securing European group stage football next season he insists recruitment will be extensive.

Out of contract Livingston winger Alan Forrest and Beerschot striker Lawrence Shankland are top targets for the Jambos.

And Neilson said: “The boys come back on June 21 and now it’s all eyes on recruitment.

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“We need to develop the squad. It’s important that we bring quality players in.

“I think against Rangers, the changes that Rangers could make, we didn’t quite have that level.

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“We need to try and get that. We need to get a group of players that after 80 minutes you can change things and we can have a right go.

“Yeah we can be extensive in our recruitment, but we’re not going to get to that level.

“It will take four or five years to get there and that’s where we need to be realistic on it and say ‘what’s the next step?’

“The next step is ‘can we play in Europe on a Thursday night and can we win on Sunday? Can we rotate our squad?’

“If we can do that and we can get back into Europe, again and again, then we start to get what we need.

“We’re trying to get players in but these things take a while.”

Despite the rejection of losing extra time to Rangers, Neilson admits his players should be proud of their efforts after proving the doubters wrong.

Now it’s all about reducing the gap on the Old Firm.

He said: “Everybody will be gunning for us, but we’re not looking below us, we’re going to try and get as close as we can to the teams above us.

“We finished 13 points clear in third, the aim is: can we beat that? If we can beat that, can we get closer to Rangers and Celtic as well?

“When you play for Hearts, you’re always a target. Everybody ups their game.

“We’ve had a brilliant season. At the start of the season, we know there were people saying we were going to go back down again.

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“There were people saying we weren’t going to make the top six.

“We’ve fought to get promoted in difficult circumstances, we’ve fought to get third, we’ve fought to get to the final.

“Next season, we fight to get third again, we fight to get Europa League and we fight to win this competition.

“Obviously we’re very, very disappointed. We’ve come so close. We’ve gone to extra time and we’ve not managed to do it. Sometimes you’ve just got to take it on the chin.

“You’ve got to applaud the team that’s won it and get back to it next season.

“The fans have been unbelievable all season. We’re maybe the biggest fan-owned club in the world, certainly Britain.

“The fans put their money in every month. All they ask is for the boys to give everything.

“I think they saw against Rangers that they gave that. They couldn’t quite get there, but they gave everything.”

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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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