ROBBIE NEILSON believes his Ibrox match-winner Osman Sow is ready to strike fear into the hearts of Championship defences this season.
The 24-year-old Swedish striker claimed all three points for Hearts against title favourites Rangers with a dramatic stoppage-time goal.
Sow, who also scored on his competitive debut for the Tynecastle club against Annan Athletic in the Petrofac Training Cup two weeks ago, was an eye-catching performer at Ibrox as Hearts made the perfect start to their bid for an instant return to the top flight of Scottish football.
Manager Neilson believes there is even better to come from the player snapped up on a free transfer from Crystal Palace. “Osman has come in and shown his qualities,” said Neilson. “I think he needs more fitness but he has pace, strength, good technique and an eye for goal. I think he’ll scare a lot of defenders this season.
“I wouldn’t say we scared Rangers today. They are a huge club and I’m just pleased my players handled the atmosphere. This game has been getting built up for six weeks. Everyone was talking about it and very few of my players have played at Ibrox before and I was pleased how they handled it.”
Sow himself insisted he remained optimistic Hearts would still win the match even after Rangers made it 1-1. “I thought ‘This is our three points’,” he said. “I still believed. The atmosphere was great today, but all three points are the same in the end. I’m just happy we got them here, it was good to get a win as early as possible. I’m happy to be at Hearts. I spoke to Craig Levein and Robbie Neilson, they told me what their plan was for the club and I liked it. They told me how they wanted to play football and I spoke to Neil Alexander, who I was with at Crystal Palace and he gave good references for the club.
“I was a free agent and had some other opportunities to go back to Sweden. But I want to make my career here in the UK, so I came here.”
Having seen Danny Wilson’s opener cancelled out by Nicky Law’s goal in the first minute of stoppage time, Neilson was especially gratified by the manner in which his players reacted by immediately restoring their lead from the kick-off through Sow. “When Rangers scored when they did, the easiest thing would be for us to fold,” said Neilson. “I’ve been here before and seen it happen. It can end up 2-1, 3-1 or even 4-1 to Rangers in that situation. But we turned it around to show the character we have got.
“We knew it was going be difficult today, with Rangers raising the league flag in front of a full house as well as the re-naming of the Govan Stand in tribute to Sandy Jardine. For the first hour we rode our luck a little as Rangers had a few chances but we created a couple as well. I have a group of winners in my team but our season won’t be defined by today. It’s just another game which we will take confidence from but the Championship is relentless. This result won’t matter if we go to Cowdenbeath or Dumbarton and get beaten as it’s the same points we are playing for.
“We’ll enjoy it but it’s back to training on Monday and we start again. We have Hibs next week and we need to gear ourselves up for that.”
Neilson was especially impressed by his team’s solidity at the back, where captain Danny Wilson formed a robust central partnership with new Turkish signing Alim Ozturk.
“I thought we defended really well. Our two centre backs and the full backs were great,” he said. “They were strong and dealt with Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller. The movement of the strikers at Rangers is fantastic and we have worked on it all week by watching videos and seeing what they do. We limited Rangers to not many chances and that’s with them having two international quality strikers. There wasn’t a fault in the whole team. We were as positive as we could be.”
The only sour note for Hearts was a serious facial injury suffered by goalkeeper Neil Alexander in a collision with team-mate Ozturk. Replaced by Scott Gallacher, Alexander was carried off on a stretcher following lengthy treatment and taken to Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital.
“It looks like a bad one,” said Neilson. “Our doctor thinks Neil’s cheekbone could be broken and that will be a minimum of four to six weeks out. But I’m pleased for Scott, as he wants to play football and he will get that opportunity here now.”