Sam Nicholson claims the Hearts fans were well within their rights to boo the team off the pitch on Thursday night but he wishes they would lay off manager Robbie Neilson.
Appealing to critics to consider the bigger picture, he maintains the gaffer has delivered more than anyone expected in his first two seasons at the helm and he believes the young boss remains the ideal man to produce even greater returns going forward.
In March Neilson was the target when a plane was hired to haul a banner across the Gorgie skies, criticising him and demanding his departure. At that time the gesture was widely condemned and he received plenty of backing from the majority of spectators on social media and within the ground. Back then the boos were for the people behind the stunt. But, so far this term, there have been two home games – both Europa League qualifiers, against Estonian side FC Infonet and then Birkirkara of Malta – and during both there has been persistent signs and sounds of dissent, while the balance of online polls have tipped in favour of forcing Neilson out.
But Nicholson says it is not a matter of whether he is still the right man to take the club where it wants to go.
“He has already taken us where we want to go! We got into Europe, we won the Championship, so I can’t really see anyone else doing a better job, to be honest.”
A born and bred Hearts supporter, the club’s defeat to the Maltese part-timers on Thursday was a sore one for the Tynecastle winger to take, and he said he had sympathy with the people who had packed the stands only to see their team falter. But, he says the players and the management have to be able to shut it all out and focus on starting the new league campaign as positively as possible.
“The fans pay to come and watch us so their frustration is understandable. It’s part of football and fans are always going to get upset if you don’t do what they feel you should. It is a game of opinions at the end of the day and even when you do well, some fans may not think that you are and if you play bad some think you are doing ok so it’s something we have to take on the chin. They have every right to feel the way they do and express their opinions but if we can pay them back with what we do for the rest of the season.”
While some of his team-mates and the management and board felt the verbal wrath of disgruntled punters, Nicholson was arguably the best performer on the night, dangerous down the flank and cracking one shot off the bar, while making a last gasp clearance at the other end. But, he says he knows that it is impossible to please all of the people, all of the time.
“There are a lot of opinions in football. There was a guy up there who was shouting at me, saying I’m bad but that’s part of football and I’m not going to let it get to me. It’s people’s opinion and we can’t let them get to us. We are obviously all down just now but that’s just because of the way the game went and we will pick ourselves up and we have a few friendlies coming up now and it is up to us to go and perform.”
Out of European competition, the capital side has been strengthened, with the addition of on loan Tony Watt and new signing Bjorn Johnsen, and will now turn all attentions to the start of the Premiership campaign in two weeks. First up in a home game against champions Celtic, followed by a trip to Pittodrie to play Aberdeen. A tough start to the season, Nicholson says that punters who were spoiled by the dominant Championship charge, followed by qualifying for Europe in their first year back in the top flight have to be aware that racking up victories is the target but it is not a foregone conclusion or a divine right.
“We are playing against tougher opponents and no disrespect to Championship teams because there are some really good teams there but we have gone up a level. It is totally up to the fans if they want to boo us, we all know that’s part of football and we are not going to get too upset about it. It is just a small minority so we let it go over our head and we try to focus and get on with our game. To be fair, they have been great with us over the last few years so if they now want to boo us at certain times then it’s fine.”