The Tynecastle side suffered their second defeat in succession after second-half goals from James Vincent and debutant Miles Storey, either side of the dismissal of visiting left-back Juwon Oshaniwa, gave Caley Thistle their first competitive victory of the season.
While Hearts’ head coach was left nursing a sense of injustice after Callum Paterson’s controversial red card proved pivotal in his team’s first defeat at Hamilton a fortnight ago, Neilson admitted last night his side were simply beaten by the better team in the Highlands.
After attempting in the early weeks of the season to play down the hype which was building up around his newly-promoted side, he felt losing to last season’s third-best team in Scotland showed that his team have a bit to go before they can themselves be considered among the top teams in the country.
“We’ve got to be realistic here, we are a Championship team who got promoted in the summer,” he said. “We had a great start to the season but the priority is to be in the top six.
“We’re playing against a team who finished third in the league and won the Scottish Cup last season and at home in particular they are a decent team. So we can’t expect to just turn up here and pick up three points.
“We have to come up here, work really hard and sometimes get the rub of the green to get a victory up here. It’s been a long time since a Hearts team has won here so we have to be realistic about where we are and not get carried away. This is a reality check. It’s such a hard league, especially when you get promoted and you are bringing a lot of new guys and young guys in.
“Sean McKirdy [17-years-old] came in tonight for his first start and while I thought he did great, that’s the reality of where we are. We are still a team that’s trying to promote youth and when you promote youth you have to accept that sometimes you’re going to lose games.”
Neilson admitted his team didn’t deserve anything from the game. “We were poor and I’m disappointed that we didn’t earn the right to win the game,” he continued. “I felt we were outfought and that’s the most disappointing thing because in the top league you have to compete and earn the right to play. We didn’t pass it as well as we can but that came from not fighting enough to get into good areas.”
Oshaniwa was dismissed for raising his hands to Inverness substitute Tobi Sho-Silva, and Neilson added: “I’ve not even seen the red card incident yet but I’ll form my own opinion once I’ve reviewed it.”
Inverness manager John Hughes was relieved to see his team finally notch their first win of the season. “I’ve kept saying we are not too far away,” he said. “We could easily be sitting in second place just now but Lady Luck has just deserted us, losing late goals against St Johnstone and Dundee. It takes time to adjust as well to losing good players like Graeme Shinnie, Nick Ross, Marley Watkins and Billy McKay. But that’s us unbeaten in two now so we’re always looking forward and always positive.”