Hearts in talks with Lee McCulloch and waiting to see if Gordon Forrest leaves Dundee United

Edinburgh club don’t plan to move for Calum Butcher

Gordon Forrest, left, and Lee McCulloch, right, worked with Robbie Neilson at Dundee United.
Gordon Forrest, left, and Lee McCulloch, right, worked with Robbie Neilson at Dundee United.

Hearts are in talks with Lee McCulloch and hope to appoint him as Robbie Neilson’s assistant in the next few days. They are also waiting to see if the Dundee United coach Gordon Forrest leaves Tannadice.

If everything goes the Edinburgh club's way both men could be reunited with Neilson at Hearts, who begin pre-season training next week.

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The coaching triumvirate guided United to the Championship title convincingly last season. Neilson left Tayside for Tynecastle Park in June and two of his backroom team are poised to follow suit.

The new United manager Micky Mellon has recruited Stephen Frail – a former Hearts coach – as his assistant. McCulloch is therefore available while Forrest has been left in limbo.

“We’re still talking to Lee and I’d like to try and get him in pretty soon,” said Neilson. “Obviously I worked with him at Dundee United and he was brilliant up there.

"He had a good relationship with the players and the staff and we’ll progress that one in the coming weeks. Gordon’s also a possibility but we’ll just need to wait and see how that one goes.”

Neilson confirmed he has no plans to move for the United midfielder Calum Butcher despite talk that is one of Hearts’ signing targets.

"When you leave a club there’s always names getting put in and no doubt there’ll be a few more getting put to us or associated with us as time goes on. But no, it’s not one we’re looking at at the moment,” he explained.

“We’ve got a really, really good squad with a lot of international players. The big thing for us is just adding that little bit of pace in the right areas, so hopefully we can do that.”

After the new season’s Championship fixtures handed Hearts a home start against Dundee on October 17, Neilson said he is relishing the challenge.

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The fixture was always destined to be controversial given Dundee’s altered vote which ultimately consigned Hearts, Partick Thistle and Stranraer to relegation in April.

“It’s a great one for us because Dundee are going to be one of the main contenders with us for the league,” said Neilson. “They’ve been down there for a year now and stabilised a bit under James [McPake] and kept the majority of their squad together.

“Them, Inverness and Dunfermline as well have added a number of players. I see Dundee as one of the main competitors in this league so it’s great to get them at home first.

“It gives us a target for pre-season but also gives us a big game before a derby at the end of the month after that, so it’s a big game to be involved in to get us ready for that.”

Championship clubs agreed to a truncated campaign of 27 games rather than the normal 36 due to the impact of coronavirus.

“Any league, if you’re going to be in it, you have to start well, especially with the shortness of the season,” said Neilson. “It’s just 27 games so you won’t get the chance to have a poor start.

"We must hit the ground running, as everyone else will be saying. So we need to make sure we get a good pre-season, get plenty of games in and make sure the guys are ready.”

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Many Hearts fans plan to boycott certain grounds in Scotland’s second tier in protest at the lack of support from clubs over the relegation issue.

Neilson hopes to have as many supporters as possible behind his team, but admitted he can empathise with the fact emotions will run high for quite some time.

“I can totally understand the frustration and annoyance of everybody, the anger and the hurt. It’s a decision the fans will need to make themselves,” he said.

“We’ll be desperate for the support and we’ll hopefully be able to get it in the home games, but I can totally understand their annoyance at the way things went.

“It just depends how they feel and everyone will make their own decision on it. There will be fans that are desperate to come and watch us, which we’d like. But there will be fans who will still harbour that anger, which is understandable.”

Hearts start an eight-week pre-season programme on Monday which will be somewhat removed from the norm. Players have not visited Riccarton since Scottish football was forced into shutdown in mid-March.

“The boys have been off for a long time so this is not your normal pre-season. We felt that to get them ready for the first game, we had to give them an extended pre-season,” explained Neilson.

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“We can’t come in and do our normal thing when the boys have maybe been off for four weeks and are still in relatively good condition. They’d still have that match readiness about them.

“But having been off that long, we’ll have to take that bit longer to get them ready to make sure we don’t get any injuries or reduce the chance of getting injuries.

“So they’ll come in and do a three-week block, we’ll give them a bit of time off, they’ll come back in and do another five-week block and then we’ll start playing games.

“I’ve just been talking to them. The boys are still on furlough so until they come back in, there’s not much we can do with them in terms of monitoring.

"We’ve just been having blether on the phone and speaking to some of the senior players as well. They’re all in good spirits and looking forward to getting back in, getting started and help the team to get back where we belong.”

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