ROBBIE NEILSON has pledged to remain as honest and forthright as ever in the wake of the Willie Collum saga.
Despite being handed a suspended two-game ban by the Scottish Football Association for comments about the referee, the Hearts head coach insisted it will not prevent him stating facts and telling the truth.
An SFA judicial panel on Thursday found Neilson guilty of criticising Collum following Hearts’ 3-2 defeat at Hamilton in August.
He had admitted training with ten men because he expected the official to send off a player during the match. That indeed happened when Callum Paterson was red-carded on 77 minutes, although the dismissal was reduced to a yellow card on appeal.
Neilson’s post-match comments earned him a suspended punishment on Thursday, pending good behaviour from now until the end of the season. However, he stressed today that he will still give honest answers if asked about training methods or any other area of Hearts’ preparation for matches.
“If you guys ask me, I’ll tell you. If you ask me a question, I’ll try and answer it as best I can,” he said. “If it comes out differently, then it comes out differently. That’s it. Everything that’s been said has been said about it so we look forward to the game now.
“It’s been dealt with and we need to move on. We’re disappointed in the outcome but they [the SFA] make their decision and we have to accept it. There’s no issue there [with Collum] at all. From my point of view, it’s done and dusted. What was said at the time was said. It’s been dealt with by the SFA and we move on. It was a fair hearing. You go there and it’s three independent people so there’s no issue from that point of view.”
The suspended ban means Neilson is free to take to the touchline this afternoon against Kilmarnock at Tynecastle. “It’s good I’ll be out on the touchline. It’s important you can coach your team from the sidelines. If they gave me a touchline ban, then so be it. That would probably have been a good learning curve for me because I could watch the game from up in the stand. That’s something I’ve thought about in the past. A lot of managers do it now but I’ll stick to the touchline for the moment.”
After beating Kilmarnock 3-2 in the dying seconds of last week’s League Cup tie at Rugby Park, Neilson predicted a feisty occasion today. “I expect Kilmarnock to come here and be desperate to win. Not just because of the cup game, but because they have quite a few guys who played here at Tynecastle and only left recently. I think it’ll be competitive. I think they’ll feel hurt at the manner in which we won the cup game. They were sitting in a victorious position with a minute to go and we turn it round in injury-time to get a result.”
Gary Locke’s side had outplayed Hearts for long spells at Rugby Park and Neilson praised the spirit of his players to overhaul a 2-1 deficit with only minutes left. “That shows us it’s going to be a difficult game. We knew that but it highlights the spirit in the team. We did that a lot last season, coming back and getting goals towards the end of games. We did it against St Johnstone at the start of this season – we were clawed back to 3-3 and then we got the winner. That breeds confidence in the players and the fans know we’re always going to keep pushing to the end.”
Defensively, Hearts hope to remain solid after holding league champions Celtic to a 0-0 draw last weekend. “We were coming off a difficult period with three losses in the league,” Neilson explained. “It was three losses against good teams. Hamilton is a tough place to go. Then we played Inverness away, the team that finished third and won the Scottish Cup. Then we played Aberdeen, a team that came second and were unbeaten at the top of the league.
“That was always going to be a hard period for us so it was important to go to Kilmarnock and get a result. We knew we were going to Parkhead on the Saturday after it. To get through in the cup, then take a point at Parkhead has brought us back and given the players a bit of belief. We just need to continue it.”