Ozturk: Hearts can beat Celtic and Aberdeen in title push
While the world at large is seemingly obsessed with an Old Firm battle for supremacy in the Premiership Alim Ozturk insists Hearts can glaringly indicate their title credentials by winning the opening two fixtures of the season.
The Hearts captain feels victory over Celtic on Sunday followed by three points at Pittodrie the following Saturday will offer compelling evidence of their threat and in turn will alleviate what he feels has been grossly unfair criticism of head coach Robbie Neilson.
The defender believes progression is the natural order for Hearts, who finished third last season, and feels they are genuine contenders.
Ozturk, 23, said: “We play the first two games of the season against the No 1 and the No 2 in the league last season.
“We can show what we want to do. We can put our marker down. That’s what we did in the Championship two years ago when we played Rangers then Hibs. That set the tone for the season and I hope we can start this season really well, even with the League Cup tie against St Johnstone in between.
“We want to win the league and we are doing everything we can to achieve that. I hope we can finish as high as possible, at least in the top three.
“If you see the quality we have it’s possible for us to finish there. New players have come in, some have gone and I think we look good.”
Ozturk understands the bitter disappointment over elimination from the Europa League at the hands of Maltese side Birkirkara but has called on the supporters to quell their derision.
The Hearts skipper said: “I think it’s unfair. Robbie is a young coach and what he’s done in the last two years is great. We won almost every game in the Championship with a record points total. To finish third in our first season in the Premiership is good. He gives youth a chance, which is important for Scottish football.
“I can understand the disappointment after the Birkirkara game in Europe. Everyone was disappointed but I think the abuse is unfair.
“In football, one week you are the king, then you are nothing. I think people have to think where the club has come from in the last two years. Also, five years ago coaches at Hearts had more money to bring in players.
“They should not forget that. We are going in the right way.”
The arrival of Tony Watt, on loan from Charlton, Connor Sammon and Bjorn Johnsen, subject to clearance, has enhanced the firepower but Ozturk believes it will take a team effort to make it a successful season. He added: “You can see Tony has quality. It’s just his fitness but that is coming.
“I hope he can play a big part for Hearts this season and be an important player. Could he be the difference?
“Maybe. We have Conor Sammon as well. He can be important with his experience. He is strong and talks a lot and that’s important with the number of young guys we have in our team.”