HAMILTON manager Alex Neil has urged his players to make the most of their second chance to secure top-flight football when they face Hibs in the Premiership play-off final this week.
Having missed out on the Championship title to Dundee on the final day of the regulation season, Hamilton won the play-off semi-final 2-1 on aggregate against Falkirk with a 1-0 win at New Douglas Park yesterday.
They will have home advantage in the first leg of the final against Hibs on Wednesday night, before heading to Easter Road on Sunday for the decisive fixture.
Neil has promised Hamilton will adopt a bold, attacking approach against Terry Butcher’s struggling side as they bid to earn a tangible reward for their fine campaign.
“Over the season, we have deserved our crack at the Premiership,” said Neil. “I was a bit aggrieved we never won the league, so to get a crack at Hibs is great. We have used that hurt in our last two games. We told them that, okay, you maybe blew that opportunity but now you have got a second bite of the cherry – don’t let it bypass you twice.
“I’ve told them to remember how hurt they were after that first time and I’ve told them to make sure they don’t feel like that again. I think we deserved to go through over the two legs. We have confidence going into these games because we are playing well, scoring goals and we are on a great run. If we play well we would fancy ourselves against anyone. There’s no reason why we can’t do it.
“Do we go for the throat against Hibs or are we more canny? We like to get in every team’s faces, get the ball and score goals. We never sit in – and we won’t against Hibs. We want to get the ball, go and attack.”
Neil watched yesterday’s match from the stand as he completed an SFA suspension and the player-boss is pondering a return to his starting line-up on Wednesday. “I will be in the squad but I’ve not thought about the team yet,” added Neil.
“I will think about that on Monday but I will do what’s best for the side. If I think it helps the team me being back then I will come back and if not, then I won’t.”
Tony Andreu scored the winning goal yesterday and has no doubts Accies can prevail in the final. “We don’t have to fear Hibs, we just have to play our own game,” said the Frenchman. “Hibs are a Premiership team and have good players. But if we play as we can, we can beat them – I’m sure of that.
“The pressure is on Hibs because they didn’t have a good season and they have to prove they can stay up. We have shown we are capable of getting to the Premiership with the way we performed in the league all season, coming so close to winning the Championship. Now we have a second chance to get there. It is in our own hands.”
Falkirk manager Gary Holt remained upbeat despite his young side being consigned to another year of second-tier football where they will face Hearts, Rangers – and possibly Hibs – next season.
“It’s been a long season,” said Holt. “Is it disappointing at the moment? No. I’ve loved it, loved every minute of what the boys have given us and how they have grown as the season’s gone on.
“They managed to cope with the pressure of being at the top end of the table and pushing for the title. So I don’t see this is a negative.
“I expect us to be back in the mix next season. We will give anyone a game on our day. To be fair, to a man they were excellent in the second half and gave it a right good go. Their keeper made some wonder saves to keep them ahead in the tie.”