ABERDEEN’S management and players may be reluctant to talk about their prospects of winning the Premiership but the coach of the latest victims in their winning run said last night they had a “good chance” of landing the title.
Hearts boss Robbie Neilson said: “They’ve got real character and real strength in depth and they know how to win games.”
After his side were beaten 3-1 at Tynecastle, Neilson added: “The team has been three years in the making. They’ve finished third, second and are now pushing for first. I think they’ve got a chance of doing that. It’s just a chance at the moment but it’s a good chance.”
Aberdeen raced into a 3-0 half-time lead thanks to David Goodwillie’s double and Niall McGinn and, although Hearts pulled a goal back through Igor Rossi, Derek McInnes’ side made it eight straight wins to stay five points ahead of Celtic.
McInnes praised his team for showing “game intelligence and real quality”.
He said: “Of all our games in the league so far this was as tough a challenge as any. We were up against a team not used to losing at home and with that crowd behind them it was important to get off to a good start.
“We knew we had to stand up to the size of Hearts – the whole back four is six-foot-two-plus and the two strikers are big, so we were a bit stretched at set plays.
“But I thought we managed the game really well.
“Hearts possibly chased it a bit too quickly at 1-0 because they aren’t used to losing at home but we still had to capitalise on that, pick them off and the quality of our counter-attacking was excellent.”
McInnes talked of the extra resolve in his team, adding: “There may have been a time in the past when we may have been a bit unsure when Hearts got their goal.
“You’ve seen Aberdeen come here and maybe fold a wee bit under that type of pressure.”
He also enthused about the the side’s support for each other. “There is a confidence from who they have beside them in the dressing-room,” said McInnes. “For all that they are good players I think what we have as a squad is a real honesty to work. Hearts had their spell but there was an inner belief and confidence about us.
“That shows we’re improving but we have to keep doing things like that.”
Neilson admitted: “We switched off three times in the first half and lost the game. That was it. End of story really. I thought we actually played some good football in that period but, at this level, if you’re not focused, if you switch off for just 30 seconds, you’ll get punished and we got punished severely.”
He admitted the run of three defeats, after Hearts had won their first five games, had been a reality check. “It’s a learning curve for us all. We’ve come up and won our first five and everyone thinks we’re going to do this and that. But we’re under no illusions. Eighteen months ago we were wondering if we were going out business. We’ve just been promoted and the players have to start handling big games and big expectations again.”