HEARTS manager Robbie Neilson admitted that he had allowed himself to start dreaming of a league title the minute his men beat Rangers on the opening day of the Championship season.
The belief that they could be destined for something special was only enhanced when they followed that up with victory in the first derby of the season.
Doused in champagne after his players had defeated Queen of the South 2-0 before enjoying a lap of honour in front of a sell-out Tynecastle, he admitted he had anticipated a more difficult campaign but having got off to a winning start his ambitions quickly grew. “When we got that last-minute winner at Ibrox it gave us real momentum and a massive lift. Then we got another result against Hibs here the week after and thought, ‘we’ve got a real chance here’. I never expected it to be the way it ended up – that’s beyond everyone’s imagination. But we did it ourselves. We never got any favours from anyone. We’ve not needed teams to go and beat other teams for us to get into this position in the league. It’s all been about us and the players’ dedication to produce.”
Which is why he has gifted them two days’ off before they return in preparation for a run of matches that sees them meet Rangers on Sunday, followed by Alloa on the Tuesday and then Hibs on April 12.
Those were the games he had initially thought would be key to promotion, but instead his men have cantered to the title win, wrapping things up with seven games left, currently sitting 26 points ahead of their nearest rivals.
“You hope you can perform throughout the season and I expected a tight league, said the young manager. “I expected Hibs and Rangers to beat most teams and it would be the games against each other that decided things.
“Consistency was always going to the difficulty. The Old Firm has dominated by winning week in week out. We showed we have that consistency to keep grinding out results.
“It has been a great season, great to be part of. The players have really enjoyed it, the fans have really enjoyed it, and it was nice to have the celebration today with everybody.
“It is the first time and, hopefully, there are a few more like that as well. It is nice to be part of it, the lads have a real team spirit about them at the minute. The whole season it has carried through. We just need to keep it going and, hopefully, it still carries through for next year.”
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