BY ALAN TEMPLE – Capital City Press
Robbie Neilson believes Aberdeen are the benchmark for Hearts as the Jambos embark on their first campaign back in the Premiership.
Derek McInnes has been widely lauded for the job he has done with the Dons, lifting the League Cup in 2014 and providing a title challenge to Celtic for long parts of last season.
Neilson reckons McInnes has done a “fantastic” job at Pittodrie and expects them to challenge the Hoops again this term.
However, comparing the stature of the two clubs, Neilson reckons the Jambos’ long-term ambition should be to challenge Aberdeen’s ‘best of the rest’ status.
He said: “Aberdeen have proved they are the second best team in Scotland at the moment. They have a good squad and a good manager. There’s a lot of experience in there and there’s winning mentality as well.
“They are the one we look at it and try and get as close as we can. Derek’s done a fantastic job there. Aberdeen should be up near the top of the league and we should be as well.
“We have had a period where it’s been difficult for us, we went down to the Championship and we are still in the rebuilding process so we are not going to aim too high but we want to get as high as we can.
“It’s encouraging for everyone in Scottish football that a team like that can have such a good season and push Celtic so far. I am sure Derek will want to do it again and I don’t see why they can’t.”
The absolute minimum expectations for the Jambos this term is to secure a top six finish – a rare show of ambition for a newly promoted club.
However, Neilson makes no apologies for their lofty aspirations, insisting he owes it to the fans after 14,000 punters helped the club register record season-ticket sales.
He continued: “This is Hearts. If I said I just want to avoid relegation, what incentive is that for the fans, for the players, for anybody?
“We don’t want to do that. We want to come up and push as hard as we can. When you’ve sold 14,000 season tickets, the expectation is there to get yourself into the top six, and that’s what we need to do.
“I’ve been here for a while now coaching, and 13 years as a player. I know what’s it like. You have to learn how to handle the expectations.”
Nevertheless, Neilson is under no illusions of the challenge that faces them this afternoon as St Johnstone arrive in the capital looking to spoil flag day.
He added: “It’s a difficult game. You are looking at a team that have qualified for Europe three years on the bounce and been Scottish Cup winners. They are an experienced team, with an experienced manager.
“They will come to Tynecastle, they haven’t been for a few years, and it will be packed and lift their game for it, so it will be a really tough game.”