Hearts face off against the Dons tonight at Tynecastle. Should the visitors leave with all three points it’ll put them only two behind leaders Celtic, who face a difficult trip to Motherwell tomorrow afternoon.
While Neilson wishes to derail that title push, as he still harbours ambition of catching Aberdeen in second place, he can’t help but be impressed with the way in which Aberdeen rebounded from the disappointment of last season. Derek McInnes’ side went on an incredible run to get themselves to withing touching distance of Celtic before falling away towards the end of the campaign. They were then able to regroup in the summer and have another go at it this term.
To Neilson, the key to Aberdeen’s success has been the squad continuity. Citing Inverness CT as a prime example, Neilson observed that it’s typical for Scottish sides to lose their best players following such stellar seasons. Aberdeen, however, managed to keep every one of their important first-team players while also added to the squad.
It’s something Neilson will wish to do this summer with expected interest from other clubs in some of Hearts’ younger stars, like Callum Paterson, Jamie Walker and Sam Nicholson.
“Aberdeen have done well this season again, they’ve kept the core of the squad from last season,” said Neilson. “You normally find that when a squad outside the Old Firm does very well for a season, a lot of players will leave.
“It was the same with Inverness - they won the Scottish Cup and three or four players left.
“Aberdeen managed to keep a hold of them and they brought in good players in the summer. They’ve managed a challenge again and they have a real chance of winning the league.
“They’re deservedly in second at the moment. We’re desperate to steal that off them. Next season if we can build again we can try and have another hit at them. We need to try and keep this group together.”
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