Robbie Neilson in Hearts Euro game changer admission as he maps out league and cup targets


Robbie Neilson has urged Hearts to wrap-up third place asap and give themselves the best shot at winning Euro millions to fund a top two push next season.

The Jambos have ambitions of splitting the Old Firm even if those have been put on the back burner for this season.

But they also have a shorter term aim of securing European group stage football – something Neilson admits would be a game changer at Tynecastle.

Third place would secure a play-off spot for Europa League groups if either of the Old Firm were to win the Scottish Cup.

Should the Jambos lift the silverware at Hampden in May they would automatically go into that 180-minute shot at the money-spinning groups with the fall back of a Conference League group stage spot for the losers.

Neilson has done his homework and knows what’s at stake.

And ahead of this afternoon’s trip to face Dundee United he admitted: “It’s huge. Whoever wins the cup gets direct access to the Europa League play-off then if you don’t win that you go straight into the Conference group stage.

“So it’s worth a lot of money and it means we can re-invest it in the squad and hopefully give ourselves a chance to go and have another crack the next year to try to get into that top two.

“You want to get third place done as soon as you can and there’s still a lot of work to do. We’ve got this game and then a cup game coming up, which is really, really important for us.

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“If we can get a good result against United we can start focusing on that and try to get ourselves to a final.

“European football is a big draw for people. If we can say to them they’ve got the opportunity to play at this level it’s big.

“First and foremost, we need to make sure we get there and once we get there it does help with recruitment.

“We’ve been playing well recently, we had a couple of games where we weren’t taking our chances then had two games where we did. So we just keep doing what we’re doing.

“Like anything at Hearts, if you win two games it’s about winning the next one.

“We had three tough games and big games, and we’ve managed to win two – but we need to win the third one or everyone reflects on that as a negative.

“So, we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”




The return of Craig Halkett from a month out injured has coincided with Hearts ending a four-game run without a win with back-to-back victories over St Mirren and Aberdeen.

Neilson reckons the 26-year-old is a Scotland star in waiting.

He said: “He’s been great. Him and John Souttar together give you that platform to go and play. They are physical and strong in the air, they dominate the striker and are also very good on the ball. Having the two of them is great.

“There’s a number of good players in the Scotland set-up. But Craig, Stephen Kingsley, Barrie McKay are all doing well enough to be in contention and I’m sure they will be.

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“It’s motivation for them to keep performing well. That’s what we speak about. Can you get into that group and what do we need to do to get you there.”

Gary Mackay-Steven insists there’s no chance of complacency derailing the Jambos push for third – not with the carrot of a Scottish Cup run just round the corner.

The winger returned to the starting line-up for the wins against the Dons and the Buddies.

And he said: “I feel there’s more to come. I think the squad has a whole we’re doing well. We’re in a good position in the league and we’ve got the Scottish Cup.

“Playing at Hearts there is expectation in every game so motivation is never a problem but the Scottish Cup is a big incentive.




“It was a big target for us at the start of the season.

“Every year the Scottish Cup is huge so to win it with Hearts would be special.

“We’re in the final quarter so we’ve got a good chance. We need to make sure we take care of league business before and our performance levels are good.

“I feel like we know how good we are when we all play to our levels.

“It’s not been a massive surprise where we are but there is still a lot of work to do to sustain it and make sure we finish [in third] and it is a good year and not just a good season in parts.

“We want to be a success at the end of it.”




www.dailyrecord.co.uk

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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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