BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
Robbie Neilson admits he is allowing his mind to wander to the prospect of Hearts qualifying for Europe this summer.
And the Tynecastle head coach would be thrilled to have the hassles that would follow if thought turns to reality to cap the club’s return from the depths of administration.
With all clubs already needing to put plans in place for pre-season training and their preparations for next season, Neilson and his management team have been contemplating what to do should the Gorgie outfit cement their current 11-point advantage in third and go on to Europa League.
He is quick to point out he is in no way counting his chickens, but confesses European football would be an experience he would revel in as a coach as much as the supporters would relish their return to the upper echelons of the game.
With the added benefit of providing him with another carrot to dangle in front of prospective signings, Neilson is optimistic Hearts can deliver European football ahead of schedule in the long-term plan drawn up with director of football Craig Levein.
With the chance to cement their lead in third at home to Partick Thistle this afternoon after their 3-0 win away to Ross County in midweek, Neilson said: “It would be great for the club and fans if we could get to Europe. Fans want trips away and hopefully we can give them that.
“The qualifiers are always difficult because generally we get pulled out against teams from eastern Europe and there’s a lot of travel, and if you draw northern European nations they are in the middle of their season so it’s tough.
“But it’s something we hoped to get in the five-year plan and we’re well ahead of schedule.
Not over the line
“It would be good just to get back in European football again after the difficult period we’ve had. But it makes things more difficult because you’ve got to plan for it – and we’ve still got to get there first.
“Personally, I’d love the challenge of pitting myself against other managers and European styles. It’s great for players to be involved in it as well. Some of the players have had a taste of it and it’s a great experience.
“We don’t want to get carried away – we’re still not over the line – but it was a big win on Wednesday.”
Meanwhile, Neilson added his voice to the debate on artificial surfaces and insisted he has no problem with them – as long as they are properly looked after.
He added: “Plastic pitches are good, as long as they’re maintained. We’ve got one at Riccarton that is fantastic for playing on but it gets looked after once a month. People spend a whole day looking after it.
“The problem we have is that when a pitch goes down they get a certificate which lasts for five years and if they don’t touch it for five years then a year down the line it’s a waste of space and you can’t play on it.
“If you’re going to have it then it should be in the mandate that it must get maintained.
“If they spend money putting it down and it’s put down properly and maintained then it can be a good surface for good football, but if it’s not maintained then that’s the biggest problem.”