One man’s fear is another man’s challenge. Ask Robbie Neilson if the fixture list has thrown up a daunting and dangerous start to the new season and his response is swift. “It could be a great start!”
His attitude is based on past experience. Of course, the introduction to this year’s league campaign is tough, he couldn’t deny that, not with a curtain-raiser at home against Celtic on Sunday followed by testing away trips to St Johnstone and Aberdeen, but taking a positive outlook, it offers his men the perfect chance to lay down an early marker.
“When we were in the Championship we played Rangers and Hibs in the first two games and got six points, and that set the tone for the rest of the season so we are hoping we get off to a really good start and pick up as many points as we can and that sets the tone for the rest of the season.”
Last season they won the first five games on their return to the nation’s top tier and they were able to channel that winning mentality as they swiftly secured a top-three finish, despite a few troughs in amongst the peaks.
“Yeah, it breeds confidence in the squad,” said Neilson, pictured. “The players are desperate to be involved in this game. They want to be involved in front of a full house at Tynecastle, in a huge game. You want to play against the big teams, Rangers, Celtic, Hibs, Aberdeen, the big clubs. We play the first three games against Celtic, St Johnstone and Aberdeen so it’s a great start for us and gives the players a great idea of where we have to be.”
Determined to maintain the upward trajectory of his previous campaigns at the helm, the Hearts boss recognises that the arrival of Rangers in the league will make life tougher, but he insists that no-one at the Tynecastle club has amended their targets as a consequence.
“Rangers were out for a few years but they were always going to come back in and our plan is to keep building the club. The club was never going to be in the position it was two or three years ago and then suddenly, in two years’ time, be consistently at the top of a league. It takes time to build that and we understand that. Yes, we want to win as many games as we can but we are in the position where we still need to develop.”
The projected tussle between Celtic and Rangers has taken some of the spotlight off Hearts, but Neilson doesn’t care.
“It keeps us under the radar and we can do our own thing and work hard and try to get as far up the league as we can. We will look after ourselves. If people want to talk about Celtic and Rangers, they can go and talk about them. That’s football. They are the two biggest teams in Scotland and they are the teams that the huge interest is there for and we can’t do anything about that. We can only look after ourselves which we have tried to do the last couple of years, and try to ensure this club works properly.”