Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Style – bottle – Neilson’s win at Hearts

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It’s been over 4 years since the ‘No Style – No Bottle – Neilson Out’ plane banner flew over Tynecastle, which slowly signalled the beginning of the end for Robbie Neilson at Hearts. During a victory over Partick Thistle, some disgruntled fans decided to blow their hard-earned wages on the banner to ‘protest’ against Neilson’s supposed horrendous tenure, during which time he had blitzed the Championship and had his team sitting in third place in the Premiership.

The hindsight is truly horrific if you are a Jambo. Since Neilson left in November that year, with Hearts sitting second in the Premiership, they have been on an alarming slide, that has dumped them straight back into the Championship. The boo-boys had long moved on to other figures, some much more deserving of their ire.

For Neilson, his varied stints at MK Dons and Dundee Utd in-between his summer return to Tynecastle yielded one sacking and another Championship winners medal. With the season’s fixtures ahead, one match rears its head as a fearsome wolf in a herd of sheep – Hibs in the Scottish Cup semi-final.

It was Hibs of course who famously knocked Hearts out of the cup in 2016. Hearts squandered a 2-goal lead at Tynecastle to draw 2-2 to their rivals, before meekly surrendering in the replay at Easter Road. Neilson’s description of the replay as a money spinner spiked blood pressure throughout Gorgie, which ultimately lead to the creation of the banner. It was unfortunately to be a fixture that would define Neilson’s tenure at Hearts amongst certain fans, iron-clad in their belief that Hearts could do better than the young coach.

Fast forward to Saturday’s game, and despite the lower key than usual build-up without fans, both Hearts and Hibs were desperate to get the victory, both for very different reasons. Hibs were salivating at the chance to rub in that Hearts had been demoted into Scotland’s second tier over the summer. For Hearts, it was the first time the club had gone into a derby at Hampden without being the favourites. For the so called ‘Big Team’ in Edinburgh it was time to experience life as the underdogs.

For Hibs, however, it was not to be. Hampden once again proved to be the scariest of scenes for Hibernian on Halloween as Hearts edged out a fascinating encounter, winning 2-1. A missed penalty, a converted penalty, a dubious goal and penalty appeals turned down; the game offered breathless excitement after the 60th minute. Hearts shocked the side in 3rd place in the Premiership. A Liam Boyce penalty was enough to send living rooms in Gorgie into delirium, with their blood pressure no doubt resembling the match from four years earlier.

Redemption for Robbie then? Surely so, certainly, if he can lead Hearts to Scottish cup glory in December, however unlikely that may be against a Celtic side who will be huge favourites. The win over Hibs and yet another Championship title for the 40-year-old will be yet more cash in the bank on a statement that has been ultimately successful. His decision to take his players off furlough and start Hearts’ pre-season back in August, despite the club not playing competitively until October, proved to be a masterstroke. The Scotsman calculated the financial burden of that decision to be well into six figures for Hearts.

That figure represents the monthly income from fans group Foundation of Hearts, a price most Hearts fans would be more than happy to pay for Scottish cup glory. Neilson’s glory on Saturday may well gather momentum ahead of a huge run of fixtures. Perhaps on the 21st of December, there will be a different banner flying over McLeod street.

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