Hearts fans helped ‘exhausted players’ defeat Aberdeen

Winger Jamie Walker is adamant that Hearts can still beat Aberdeen to second place. Picture: SNS

Winger Jamie Walker is adamant that Hearts can still beat Aberdeen to second place. Picture: SNS

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Hearts are on the verge of sealing their European slot, but head coach Robbie Neilson does not want his team to think their job is done yet.

The Jambos need just a point against Inverness tonight to secure a Europa League slot.

But a third-place finish would mean the Gorgie men have to kick off their season in the first qualifying round on 30 June.

Neilson, though, would rather his team try to hunt down Aberdeen – currently nine points clear in second having played a game more – and delay their return to action until the second qualifying round two weeks later.

He told HeartsTV: “It’s nice to be in a position where we could guarantee European football before the split. Now it’s all about trying to get second spot. If we get that then we skip the first round of the European qualifiers which of course gives you an advantage in terms of getting more preparation time.”

Hearts have already bitten into the Dons’ lead with last week’s 2-1 victory over Derek McInnes’ side at Tynecastle and, with a post-split showdown still to come, Neilson is looking to trim their lead back further by taking care of John Hughes’ Caley Thistle outfit.

He said: “It was a pleasing performance all round and to get three points against a strong team like Aberdeen has set us up nicely for Inverness.

“Friday’s done now though and it’s important we follow it up with a performance on Tuesday. It’s important we get three points again and keep up the pressure on Aberdeen.

“We should have a full squad. The only one out is Don Cowie who’s still struggling with his calf and could do with further rest.”

As Hearts continue their pursuit of the Dons, winger Jamie Walker has praised the Tynecastle fans for their part in roaring the team to victory over the Dons on Friday while some of the players were still feeling the after-effects of the sickness bug which had decimated the squad, forced the postponement of last Tuesday’s scheduled trip to Inverness and and the closure of the club’s training complex for two days.

“The fans helped us get over the line. Some of the lads were dying on their feet,” the winger told Hearts TV. “Some boys were grateful for the rest but most of us were sick, and didn’t get a chance to prepare.

“It’s never ideal to have one day to prepare for such a big game but I think it just showed how much quality we have that we were still able to win.

“The first ten to 15 minutes were really poor,” he reflected. “We probably should have been more than one goal down but we had to work hard to get back into it.

“Neil’s (goalkeeper Alexander) made some good saves to keep us in it and we had to defend well later into the game, but I thought we were the better side. Once we levelled it, we didn’t look back.”

“We’re still aiming for Aberdeen. We can catch them,” he insisted. “It shows the ambition we have that we don’t want to settle for third place. As long as it’s possible to catch them, we won’t give up.

“We’ve a game in hand, and we still need to play Aberdeen again. Winning this game keeps our season alive and keeps us going, so now we can go to Inverness on Tuesday and know how important a win is.”

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