AFTER a week when they have again been making headlines, this time for all the right reasons, Hearts today will have the small matter of trying to put Celtic out of the William Hill Scottish Cup.
Victory over Rangers in the Championship last Sunday gives Hearts a rare chance to do the double over the Old Firm in successive weekends. Yet this is a cup match today, and that could be something different for Hearts.
From the start of the season, the Tynecastle mantra has always been promotion, promotion, promotion from the Championship back to the top flight, but last week current owner Ann Budge said gaining promotion might not be a necessity. Her suggestions that the club might have to move from Tynecastle to prosper are a different matter altogether, and certainly that move would be unlikely to happen if Hearts were still on Championship earnings.
Budge did reiterate, however, that promotion is the club’s priority, so will manager Robbie Neilson look upon today’s match as just a side issue getting in the road of the main target?
“Right at the start of the season, we said the league is the priority,” said Neilson last week, “then it’s the Scottish Cup, then the League Cup and then the Petrofac in that order in terms of what we we feel is beneficial.
“We focus on the league, but we take the Scottish Cup seriously as well and we will be putting a strong team out on Sunday. Ultimately, the aim for the season is to get promoted and if we can get promoted and have a good run in the cup and do well then it’s an added bonus, but the league is the main one.”
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Neilson expects a different challenge today from the somewhat robust nature of Rangers’ play last Sunday.
Neilson said: “We knew what it was going to be like against Rangers, I’ve watched them play this season. They’re a strong team and they try to dominate you aerially. We worked on it during the week but Celtic are different, they use their full-backs more in the wide areas.
“If we play the way we can, move the ball quickly and get our players into good areas then we have a good chance. We’re playing Celtic so a lot of work will be about how to combat them because they’re a good team.”
Neilson admires Celtic manager Ronny Deila’s attempts to change Celtic: “I get on well with him. He speaks a lot of sense and this stuff he is doing is good. We had a blether about certain things, I think what he is trying to do is great at Celtic.
“It’s a huge club to turn around and it takes time at these clubs, but you can see the way he is trying to get the guys to play.They’re patient in the way they look after the ball. I think what he’s doing is good.
“I don’t know what his philosophy is, everyone is different. People talk about philosophies all the time but at the end of the day, you get your team playing the way you think you’re going to win the game. Your philosophy can change from week to week and it’s about picking the team.”
Celtic have moved on from their narrow defeat of Hearts earlier in the season: “He’s had a bit more time to work on things but we’re the same, we’re probably stronger than we were at that time as well. It’s going to be a good game and it’s going to be a hard game for us. We have to make sure we do things really well and play 100 per cent.”
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