Robbie Neilson has five-year plan to make Hearts champions

Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson has a long-term plan which he believes will make Hearts genuine title contenders.

Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson has a long-term plan which he believes will make Hearts genuine title contenders.

The last time the Edinburgh club came close to being champions was back in 1986 when the long-time league leaders experienced the heartbreak of losing 2-0 to Dundee at Dens Park on the final day of the season and were leapfrogged by Celtic, who simultaeouslty defeated St Mirren 5-0 to dramatically snatch the title.

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Ironically, tomorrow’s meeting of Hearts and Celtic at Tynecastle comes nearly 30 years to the day since that gut-wrenching finale. Fittingly, Neilson sees the current champions as the blueprint for the success which Hearts are aiming to achieve and he is convinced the club is rebuilding towards a future where another title challenge can be seen as a realistic goal.

Asked about memories of 1986, when Hearts also lost the Scottish Cup final to Aberdeen, he said: “Everyone knows all about it. People still speak about it now. But we have moved on and hopefully we can get to a stage where we put that to bed by challenging to win something.

“That’s the plan for the club - to build in the next four or five years to compete. You have to always believe you can. There’s no point coming into a league at the start and saying you will be happy with this and that.

“You might not have a realistic chance of winning it but every side should be determined to have a right good go.

“If you don’t do that you are not doing yourself or your fans any justice.

“We’d like to get to a stage when we can challenge and I think we will get there eventually. It might take a number of years but if we build properly and have the backing of the fans we can get there.”

That the fixture list has thrown together tomorrow the two main players in that drama of 30 years ago may be a coincidence, but Neilson sees significance in how his team perform as Celtic eye the victory that would effectively clinch them the Premiership title.

Neilson added: “We are never going to say it will take six months when we are only two years out of administration.

“You need to build slowly and Saturday’s game is the chance to take another step. It’s a chance to prove we can produce a performance and get a result. It would be another small step.”

Despite two previous draws in the league, Neilson insists his side’s best performance against Celtic came in losing 3-1 at Parkhead earlier this month.

He is adamant that his focus is on inspiring an even better display tomorrow – and not on preventing the Hoops from hosting at title party at Tynecastle.

When it was put to him that he would not want Celtic celebrating on Hearts’ home turf, he commented: “Obviously not, but we want to try and win the game. That’s the most important thing. What’s happened with Celtic and where they are in the league, or what’s going to happen with them, is nothing to do with us.

“We have to try and perform and excite the fans. There’s going to be 17,500 or 18,000 fans there. We have to make sure we put a performance on and try and get a result.

“We’ve taken great strides in the last two years to get where we are. The next stride is trying to beat the top teams and trying to get to the level where teams will come to Tynecastle and we’re winning these games – instead of just coming away from it and saying ‘we did really well, but we didn’t get anything out of it’.

“We want to be saying ‘we did well and we won the game’.

“That’s the next step for this team, to do that and then to do it consistently.”