BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
Robbie Neilson insists Hearts are in no way a team of hatchet men – but is quite ‘happy’ for others to think that way.
The Gorgie men today host Aberdeen in a mouthwatering Scottish Cup tie that is expected to be fiercely-contested between the clubs occupying second and third in the league.
Dons winger Jonny Hayes branded Hearts ‘as physical a side as we’ve played’ in the wake of the clash of the teams last month, when the Jambos lost 1-0 after Jordan McGhee’s nonsensical late hand ball.
On that occasion, the Tynecastle side committed an incredible 25 fouls, compared to Aberdeen’s 13, and had four players booked, whilst Neilson substituted Spaniard Miguel Pallardo after just 32 minutes to prevent him picking up a second yellow card.
With St Johnstone’s Tommy Wright and Murray Davidson highlighting Hearts’ physicality the following week, the reigning Championship champions appear to be developing something of a name for themselves in their first season back in the top-flight.
However, Neilson insists it is nothing new for the men in maroon, who were once dubbed a ‘pub team’ by then Hibernian manager John Collins after an Edinburgh derby in 2006.
And, although he believes he has built a balanced side, the Jambos head coach – who has seen four players red carded in 24 matches – is untroubled by the reputation.
He said: “When you look at Aberdeen, Hearts, St Johnstone, to an extent Celtic, they’re all physical teams. You need to be physical.
“You need that in any division. You have to be strong, you have to be quick. That’s just the way it is.
“We’re not an overly physical team, we’ve just got strong players who want to win games.
Big physical team
“But if people want to highlight it they can highlight it. It’s up to them. It’s always been something that’s been put on Hearts down the years – they’re a big physical team.
“But look at Celtic and the size of their team – Nir Bitton, Efe Ambrose, Craig Gordon. If you want to win leagues you have to be physical, strong, quick and you have to be ready to go and compete.
“It would be great if every single player in the team was 5’4” and a ball player, but that’s not going to win you leagues, it’s not going to win you cups, it’s not going to win you games.
“We’ve got good height in our team and we’ve got good pace, and some good power, and that’s what’s got us to where we are at the moment.
“(Hearts’ reputation) doesn’t tire me, I’m quite happy with it, to be honest with you.
“Yes, we’re a big, strong, physical team – but people just need to compete against us, then.
“We’ve got Sam Nicholson, we’ve got good players, and you have to have a balance between the two.
“I think people are looking too much into the physicality of it. Jamie Walker, Nicholson, Billy King, Gavin Reilly, Pallardo, Morgaro Gomis, they’re all good football players. You have to have a balance between the two.”
Meanwhile, Neilson expects scouts to flock to Tynecastle this afternoon and insists any of his players wanting to earn a move must perform in these high-profile games.
He added: “I would expect people to be interested in our players. I guarantee you there will be 30 or 40 scouts at the game watching our players, watching Aberdeen players.
“That’s the nature of football and players get on with it. We had it all last season and this season and it’s up to them to perform. It’s a compliment.
“We are under no illusions that players who are here will move on to bigger and better things. But the only way they will do that is by performing and winning games like this one.”