Hearts look to take 'next step' as Robbie Neilson spells out summer recruitment plans
So after 90 minutes of stalemate, the fact that two of the Ibrox club’s substitutes were able to finally separate the sides was not lost on the Gorgie boss.
“Obviously we’re very, very disappointed," said Neilson. "We’ve come so close. We’ve gone to extra time and we’ve not managed to do it. Sometimes you’ve just got to take it on the chin.
“You’ve got to applaud the team that’s won it and get back to it next season.
“The boys come back on June 21 and now it’s all eyes on recruitment. We’re losing John [Souttar] and we’ve offered Peter Haring a new contract. We need to develop the squad. It’s important that we bring quality players in.
“The changes that Rangers could make, we didn’t quite have that level. We need to try and get that. We need to get a group of players that after 80 minutes you can change things and we can have a right go.”
Having secured a place in either the Europa League or Conference League group stages next term, depending on how they do in the play-off tie, there will be financial remuneration and the club are looking to invest that in the playing squad.
“Yeah we can be extensive in our recruitment, but we’re not going to get to that level. It will take four or five years to get there and that’s where we need to be realistic and say ‘what’s the next step?’
“The next step is ‘can we play in Europe on a Thursday night and can we win on Sunday? Can we rotate our squad?’
“If we can do that and we can get back into Europe, again and again, then we start to get what we need.”
With a guaranteed two-legged qualifier and then six group matches there is a major carrot to dangle in front of would-be signings, something that is not lost on a manager who knows his team will be the one others will attempt to chase down next term.
“It’s excellent. European football and the opportunity to come and play in those games [is a massive draw], even the guys we’re trying to get to resign, which is maybe even more important than fresh recruitment…
“We’re trying to get players in but these things take a while. We’ve got targets and we will recruit in the summer.”
But, having set themselves apart this term, he knows it will not be easy.
“When you play for Hearts, you’re always a target.
“We’ve lost [the Scottish Cup final] but we’ve had a brilliant season. At the start of the season, we knew there were people saying we were going to go back down again. There were people saying we weren’t going to make the top six.
“But, we’ve fought to get promoted in difficult circumstances, we’ve fought to get third, we’ve fought to get to the final. Next season, we fight to get third again, we fight to get Europa League and we fight to win this competition.”
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