Hearts boss: January crucial if club are to finish second

Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson talks to the media ahead of his side's clash with Rangers. Picture: SNS

Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson talks to the media ahead of his side's clash with Rangers. Picture: SNS

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Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson has set his sights on boosting their second-place prospects on and off the pitch ahead of the visit of Rangers.

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Hearts will leapfrog Rangers into second spot in the Ladbrokes Premiership if they beat the Ibrox club on Wednesday night in their first meeting since the pair were in the Championship.

And Neilson is also working on tying up an early January signing to further enhance his team’s prospects of finishing above Rangers and Aberdeen.

“It’s a huge game for us,” Neilson said of the Tynecastle clash. “It’s been a while since we played them. When we were in the Championship we had the upper hand on most occasions and we hope to do that again on Wednesday night. I think we’ve got a really good squad here that can go and win the game.

“There are still a few boys in the squad that were involved in those games. We have real confidence in the group and the guys who have come in since then, every time we play at Tynecastle they expect to win the game. So the confidence is there.

“They (Rangers) are a very good footballing team. If you allow them to have a lot of possession, they will hurt you. So it’s important that we try and stop that, and I think the atmosphere at Tynecastle will help us do that.”

A 3-0 victory over Motherwell on Saturday ended a run of four games without a win for Hearts and gave them the chance to move into second.

“There is a motivation there to do that,” said Neilson, who confirmed right-back Callum Paterson would be fit to face Rangers after suffering a cut and swollen eye against Motherwell.

“It would be great for us. We have had a stop-start season games-wise and now we are coming to a period where we play Saturday-Saturday and midweek. It gives us that opportunity, if we can get into second, to keep a hold of it.”

When asked whether he would be disappointed not to finish above Rangers, Neilson said: “We want to finish as high as we can, we want to finish in second place, so that probably answers your question. We finished third last season and we want to push again. That means either similar or getting second place. My drive is to try and get that second position.”

Neilson attended a board meeting last week in the wake of news that Hearts made a £600,000 profit last season and the former Tynecastle defender was given encouraging news over his January transfer plans.

“I can strengthen,” he said. “It’s a case of sourcing players. We have one that we are hoping to get done soon.

“Then we will assess how the January window goes because the players have been doing well. We have guys like Paterson who will attract interest, he is a Scottish international. So it will depend what happens with him, where we then need to strengthen.

“It’s a really important window for us. There are a few teams round about us at the minute who I expect to recruit. So we have to recruit well if we are going to compete and get that second position.”

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