Robbie Neilson is proud of Hearts’ fighting spirit

A relieved Robbie Neilson congratulates Alim Ozturk. Picture: PA
A relieved Robbie Neilson congratulates Alim Ozturk. Picture: PA
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Hearts manager Robbie Neilson praised his players’ fitness and fighting spirit as yet another late goal salvaged a draw against Hibernian and maintained their unbeaten record in the Championship but then he admitted: “We will lose at some time.”

Meanwhile Alim Ozturk, scorer of the stupendous equaliser at Easter Road, revealed his long-range shooting had been the subject of much training-ground hilarity among his team-mates and they were wincing at the prospect of him trying his luck from 40 yards.

Neilson said the goal had been “a great way to finish the derby” and that Hearts had to be happy with a point as they had been below their best. Asked if they could stay undefeated for the rest of the season, he said: “No. We won’t. There will come a period where we lose a game. Then it’ll be about how we deal with that. But it’s going to have to be somebody else who will have to beat us now.

“I don’t think we played well today. We didn’t dominate as we usually do. Hibs played really well, they passed it about well and they were really solid. We didn’t really create a lot of opportunities but there are going to be games like that.”

Hearts are making a habit of late goals. Some came in games they were already controlling but the matches away to Rangers and Alloa were won with strikes in the dying moments. These were the most important of their away goals, until yesterday.

“The boys are fit, they’ve worked hard and hopefully we’re seeing the benefits of the training regime,” Neilson said. “At half-time we spoke about being a goal down here and how we should see that as an opportunity to prove people wrong – the doubters who think the bubble’s going to burst.

“That was the first time we’d been behind this season. You don’t want that to happen but there are going to be times when it will. We showed good spirit.”

Neilson had to adjust when first captain Danny Wilson came off injured and then Callum Paterson was red-carded. “Today we went 1-0 down, lost a man, lost our captain, but we changed our shape and kept going. I didn’t ever think the game was gone. You always get one chance, no matter how many men you’ve got – nine or even eight. That was maybe half a chance but we took it.”

Neilson claimed he hadn’t seen Paterson’s tackle from behind on Hibs goalscorer Dominique Malonga, but added: “From what I’m hearing it was a bad one. It’s one of these things, he’s made a mistake. His team-mates pulled him out of a hole and got the draw. We’ll be talking to Callum and trying to advise him to watch his tackling in future.”

The manager also praised the Hearts fans for the way they helped keep the team striving for the leveller. “I was pleased to be able to give something back to them at the end. They were fantastic; we sold all our tickets. The game was beamed back to the Gorgie Suite at Tynecastle and that was a full house as well. I’ve been here before and been a goal down when, with a few minutes to go, people would start to disappear, but everyone stayed right to the death.”

Neilson said he was delighted for Ozturk who had always been encouraged to move forward into shooting positions, but then he let the player describe the goal. “It was the last minute and I was thinking, I’ll go, I’ll step in, and if they give me the ball I’m gonna shoot,” the Dutch-born Turk said.

“There was no one in front of me, I hit it, it was amazing. At training I’m always trying shots but sometimes the boys laugh and make jokes. ‘Don’t do that in a game’, they say. After the game everybody said: ‘We saw you were going to shoot and we thought no…no…no…yeah? Oh yeah!

“It’s great to keep our run going. The game was not easy for us and the first half wasn’t good. In the second half we tried to play but didn’t create many chances. If you make 1-1 in the last minute you must be happy with a point.

“Our fans went crazy at the end. I know Hibs and Hearts are not friends, but for me it was unbelievable to score in a big derby.” After his wonder strike, Ozturk collected a Turkish flag from a supporter. “A few weeks ago at Tynecastle this Dutch guy promised he’d give me a flag at the Hibs game. I’m very proud to be Turkish so it means a lot to me when I’m in Scotland that somebody gives me a Turkish flag. It’s a very good feeling.”