Hearts manager Robbie Neilson was heavily critical of his team’s performance in the Edinburgh derby, a 2-0 defeat which gave Hibernian their first success in the fixture this season, and accused his players of a lack of hunger and desire.
The win, secured through a first-half Jason Cummings goal and a second from Farid El Alagui in injury time, kept Hibs in second place in the Championship but still a massive 23 points behind Neilson’s title winners, although it was the manner of the loss which annoyed the Gorgie boss.
“The desire wasn’t there today and that’s disappointing,” Neilson said. “It doesn’t matter if we’ve won the league. At the end of the day this was a derby. Look, we’ve had a fantastic season but last week we got beat by Rangers and today we’ve been beaten by Hibs. That’s not acceptable when you play for Hearts.”
The Tynecastle revival allows no time for basking in the afterglow of a league triumph. Players have already been told they won’t be required for the return to the top flight and replacements are now being sought. “Next season we’re going to places like Parkhead, Pittodrie and Tannadice – big venues to play big teams – and we have to perform better than we did,” added Neilson.
“The team should be sticking to the high standards they’ve set, even though the league has been won, but the hunger just wasn’t there.” He had no complaints about the result, only the performance. Hibs, he said, did “alright” without being outstanding. “We let them win the game, as opposed to anything else. Previous games we’ve been the dominant team and we’ve got to get back to doing that again.
“First 15 minutes I felt we were okay. We changed the shape and did fine, but then for the next 20 minutes we didn’t do the things we were meant to do. We didn’t exploit them in the areas we should’ve done and we lost a goal. We managed to get ourselves back in the game and second half I thought we were better, but overall it was disappointing.
“I don’t think there’s an issue with motivation but there is one about learning how to win games. It’s fine margins. Second half we had a couple of shots and, at one point, there was ping-pong in their area. If we’d got a goal from that it could have been a different game. But we’re quite a young team and we need to learn quickly because we’re going up to a bigger league.
“You have to want it all the time,” Neilson added. “You need to have the desire all the time to win games when you play for Hearts. It’s not just Alloa, Livingston, Dumbarton – you have to do it in these games [against Rangers and Hibs] as well. To be fair, they’ve done it all season, but the last two weeks haven’t been good enough.”
The manager was asked if the defeat had served to reinforce the need for the recruitment of up to half-a-dozen new players, revealed by the club in the aftermath of the title being won. “It wouldn’t have mattered if we’d won today, it still wouldn’t have changed my mind on anything. The team know what I want to do for next season. We’re moving up a level so today’s result doesn’t have any bearing on what we’re going to do in the summer.
“But the boys are disappointed and I’m disappointed for the fans who came here today. They’ve been great all season – and then we don’t perform.”
Finally, Neilson was asked if he was worried Hearts’ season, after the bang of the title triumph, was in danger of ending with a whimper. “No, I’m not – not after having just spoken to the players. They know they’ve got three games left and I want nine points. We play Raith Rovers, Cowdenbeath and then Rangers in the last game of the season. I want to win them all. We went 31 games losing only one, now we’ve lost two in three and it’s not acceptable. I spoke the truth to the players. It has to be better. You play for Hearts and it has to be better.”
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