BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
ROBBIE Neilson admits he feels for any Hearts fans who have been hit in the pocket by UEFA’s decision to twice change the club’s Europa League first round qualifier.
The Gorgie outfit were initially drawn to face Estonians FC Infonet away from home on June 30, with the return match scheduled for a week later.
However, the two legs were reversed, meaning the Jambos will play at Tynecastle first next Thursday.
The governing body then brought forward the second leg in Tallinn to Wednesday, July 6, with the move coming 24 hours after Monday’s draw.
With supporters instantly scrabbling for the best deals on flights to Estonia and hotel accommodation in Tallinn, many will have made arrangements that will now have to be altered.
“It’s disappointing but UEFA make the final decision,” said Neilson. “We watched the draw and I’m sure a lot of fans were on websites booking flights and hotels.
“Now it has to be changed, I feel for them. I hope they haven’t lost a lot of money.
“But I think it’s something to do with the other clubs in Tallinn also being drawn to play on the same day. As Infonet have the lowest co-efficient, they are the ones who have to move.”
Neilson has taken his squad to St Andrews this week to prepare for their European sojourn and, with Aberdeen also in the Fife coastal resort, will face their Premiership rivals in a closed-door friendly on Thursday.
That will bring the Jambos face to face with former team-mate Neil Alexander, who has discussed his shock at being forced out of Hearts at the end of last season.
The veteran former Rangers custodian was poised to pen fresh terms on a new deal at Tynecastle but found that contract taken off the table at the 11th hour last month.
But Neilson has defended his decision, which he claims was to allow Scotland under-21 keeper Jack Hamilton – who earned a full international call-up for the recent friendlies against Italy and France – the chance to become the club’s first-choice goalie.
He added: “We had spoken with Neil about the plans for the future but in football things change quickly. Jack came in at the end of the season and did really well, and was also involved in the international set up.
“There comes a point when you have to make a decision and sometimes these decisions can make people feel they’ve been hard done by or they’re not happy about it.
“But if I was to keep everyone happy at the football club I would have 120 players.
“I have to make the decisions that are best for the football club.
“Neil is still a very good goalkeeper and will do very well, but I had to make a decision for the football club.
“The decision you have to make as a manager is what’s best for the club and who’s best to play for the club, and I feel Jack is at that level where he is good enough to play here and he needs an opportunity.”