Robbie Neilson today insisted Hearts must be ready to start the season with a bang against St Johnstone on August 1.
The Perth club could have played five competitive European ties by then and Neilson wants his players fully up to speed to ensure they are just as sharp as their opponents.
The new Ladbrokes Premiership fixtures were announced yesterday and Hearts were paired with St Johnstone on the opening day. The Edinburgh club then travel to Dundee before welcoming Motherwell to Tynecastle.
The first game sees former Hearts defender Brad McKay pitted against his former club for what would be his league debut. He left Hearts for St Johnstone last month after five years with the club he supported as a child.
Neilson, the Hearts head coach, insists there can be no distractions as his team return to Scotland’s top flight.
St Johnstone’s Europa League qualifiers will ensure they are already into their stride and Neilson is aware of the threat they pose.
“We know how hard it’s going to be,” he said. “St Johnstone will be in Europe and will be playing competitive games so they will be sharp and into their rhythm. Our players will be prepared because you can’t afford to get caught cold. Every manager wants to start with a win on the opening day and we’re no different.”
Neilson warned that expecting a start like last season’s is unrealistic. Hearts won 11 out of their opening 12 matches in the Championship but face a stern challenge each week in the top flight. “We want to get off to a good start but we won’t take anything for granted,” added Neilson.
“The biggest game just now is St Johnstone, then Dundee, then Motherwell. We want to win games and start the season as well as possible but we aren’t going to go on a run like we did at the start of last season. That’s just not going to happen. We will prepare properly during pre-season and get ready for the first game. That’s the priority.”