Robbie Neilson has said that he will be too busy focusing on league matches to worry about mind games in the build-up to the Scottish Cup tie with city rivals Hibernian.
The draw for the next round of the nation’s premier knockout tournament paired the city rivals in the final 16 but, with three Premiership fixtures to negotiate, the Hearts head coach claimed that despite the fact the derby will be one of the biggest games of the season, he and his players will be too busy to indulge in too much hype.
“It’s starting to get like boxing matches sometimes before big games,” he said of the growing trend for trash talk and psyche wars, citing the mind games and prolonged run-in to the recent Championship head-to-head between Rangers and Hibs as one notable example. “I think eventually we’re going to have managers in doing press conferences together before it!
“If Alan [Stubbs] wants to do it it’s up to him. It’s quite entertaining and to be honest it built the whole hype up and made everyone talk about it. You got a full house at Ibrox and you had everyone talking about it.”
But, while he has already been involved in a few wars of words after tussles this season Neilson says that he prefers to take a more muted approach pre-match, especially when there are other things he needs to concentrate on.
“We’ve got three tough games before it against Motherwell, we then go to Hamilton on the astro, which is always difficult, and then we got to Inverness against the Scottish Cup holders. So it’s three difficult games before we think about the Hibs games. As a coaching staff, we’ll start looking at it but the players have to focus on the next game.
“I don’t think they’re going to come out and start talking about it too early and start making comments about it. The players are pretty disciplined that way that they don’t speak about the football side of it on social media or Twitter.”
But with no capital head-to-heads in the league this year, the importance of the cup tie has been amplified.
“It’s a great draw and I’m looking forward to it,” admitted Neilson. “It’s one everyone is excited about. First and foremost you want a home tie and then you want to get through. It definitely ignites the imagination of everyone. It will be a home game, sell-out, on television, so it’s a great one to be involved in. It’s a huge month coming up for both clubs. Not to have the derby is disappointing for the fans so to be able to do this is great, it’s going to be the biggest game in Edinburgh for a year.”
But he warned that the only way his men can be assured of a place in the starting line-up is to impress in training and in games between now and then, starting at Tynecastle this afternoon.
Following an end-of-the-year run of results characterised by draws, Hearts gave themselves a shot in the arm last weekend by finally getting the better of second-placed Aberdeen, albeit in the cup. It gave them safe passage into the next round meeting with Hibs and proved they are capable of challenging the superiority of Derek McInnes’ men in a one-off match. They now want to do that on a sustained basis in an attempt to usurp them in the Premiership standings. That leaves no room for slip ups against the likes of Motherwell.
Referring to Mark McGhee’s side as one the country’s in-form teams, Neilson noted the upsurge in fortunes since the Scotland assistant manager retook control and said that the fact the Fir Park side harvested 11 points from a possible 15 from their last five fixtures, reigniting their hopes of a top-six finish, underlined how tough the hosts could have it this afternoon.
“I’ve been really impressed, I’ve watched a lot of them this week and you can see exactly what he’s done since he’s come in. He’s had a look at his squad and changed the style of play to suit what he’s got. He’s got good experience at the back and good experience in the wide areas.
“It’s some achievement to get to 900 games in management and I saw he was looking to get 1000.
“For Mark to have managed so many clubs and have so many games, it shows the level of manager he is and you can see by the way he’s turned things around. They were struggling at the start but they’re now the form team.”