BY IAIN COLLIN – Capital City Press
Scottish Cup-winning former Hearts skipper Steven Pressley has backed his old club to challenge Celtic for the Premiership title this season – by becoming the Chelsea of the north.
Pressley has been hugely impressed with the way the Tynecastle club have begun the new campaign, with four consecutive victories seeing last term’s Championship winners take the top-flight by storm to proudly sit top of the table.
But, whilst some may expect Robbie Neilson’s side to falter as the season progresses, ‘Elvis’ is adamant the Jambos are built to last.
The former Falkirk and Coventry City manager believes copying the kind of signing policy that has worked for Jose Mourinho at Chelsea will ensure Hearts can threaten Celtic’s grip on the league title.
Pressley lifted the Scottish Cup with Hearts in 2006, when the Jambos also split the Old Firm and finished second in the Premier League after beginning the campaign with eight straight league wins in a 12-match unbeaten run.
The former Celtic defender said: “Both Hearts and Aberdeen have shown great ambition and they can push champions Celtic all the way for the Ladbrokes Premiership title.
“Aberdeen have progressed year on year under Derek McInnes and I expect them to be strong throughout the season.
“But Hearts in particular have been very creative in the transfer market. They’ve plundered Europe and made some astute signings. Under the guidance of Robbie Neilson they can be a threat.
“Their recruitment has focused on very robust players who can deal with the physicality of the British game and that could be crucial.
“Like Chelsea in the Premier League under Jose Mourinho, Hearts have built a solid foundation and they’ll be able to handle playing in the most difficult venues during the harsh winter months.
“Sometimes you have to dig out those 1-0 wins on poor playing surfaces. Pitches deteriorate in Scotland far more than south of the border and you need a side that can deal with that.
“Even before the start of the season I really believed that Hearts can go the distance. There’s an energy and belief coming from the club that’s infectious.
“Robbie is a friend of mine and so is the chief scout (John Murray). Every single person at Tynecastle is pulling in the right direction and that’s clear for all to see.”
Hearts are odds-on to keep their winning run going tomorrow when they host Partick Thistle following league victories over St Johnstone, Dundee, Motherwell and Ross County
And Pressley reckons it is in those kinds of matches that Hearts can maintain a challenge at the top of the division, and not necessarily in head-to-head meetings with the reigning champions.
Ladbrokes SPFL ambassador Steven Pressley told Ladbrokes News: “Will their results against Celtic decide where the league title ends up? I don’t think so.
“It’s about taking care of the other teams and Hearts have done that in their opening four games.
“Their title challenge will come from being consistent over the course of the campaign.
“Regardless of whether Celtic get through to the Champions League group stages, they’ll be pushed all the way.”
Meanwhile, Pressley has backed former Falkirk team-mate Jackie McNamara following the Dundee United manager’s troubled start to the new season.
He commented at www.ladbrokes.com/spfl: “Criticism of Jackie McNamara is unfair, he’s not a miracle worker.
“As a manager you’re always under pressure. But what people need to understand is that, regardless of how good a coach you are, if you do not have the right players at your disposal then it’s difficult to get the results.
“And, with Jackie McNamara, every time he’s developed a team it’s been taken away from him.
“He’s lost so many of his best players and needs support. You can’t expect miracles.
“Brendan Rodgers didn’t become a bad coach at Liverpool last year – he just lost one of his best players in Luis Suarez.
“You can’t simply expect a team to function in the same manner if time and time again you’re being weakened.
“We have to get away from this manager bashing. Jackie might need another year to re-build that group.”