BY IAIN COLLIN –[email protected]_sport
HEARTS head coach Robbie Neilson insists Scottish teams must be less hell-bent on winning if they want to achieve success in Europe.
The Tynecastle boss is hopeful his side can continue flying the flag for the country on the continent when they host Maltese outfit Birkirkara in the second leg of their Europa League second qualifying round tomorrow night.
It is a tie Neilson is fully aware is firmly in his squad’s hands after a goalless encounter away from home last week.
However, as he builds his own managerial experience on the European stage, the 36-year-old recognises a need for players used to British football to change their ways in Europe if the flops of recent years are not to become a gloomy regular occurrence.
“It is a different kind of football and it’s about trying to get that over to the players,” he said.
“Even our experienced players, such as Don Cowie and Conor Sammon, haven’t played in Europe before, so it takes a little bit getting used to.
“You probably need to show more patience and be more tactical. When you play in the Scottish game it is really open and everything is 100 mph and it is all about trying to win the game.
“When you play in Europe a lot of teams are not really interested in winning; they just do not want to get beaten.
“They want to see it through to the next leg, like Birkirkara did. They were content with a 0-0 to try and take it to the next leg.
“There’s a balance. These teams are good. Teams in Europe are getting better, the smaller nations are getting better. A lot of the international teams are good because their players play all across Europe and they have invested in the teams, which makes it difficult.
“It is a different style of football. I think British football is unique compared to the rest of Europe. That’s maybe where we in Scotland find it difficult going into these games.”
Neilson is confident his team can finish the job and set up a trip to Russia to face Krasnodar in the next round.
But, in the expectation that Birkirkara will arrive in the capital eager to frustrate, has cautioned both players and supporters against frustration if they do not get the early breakthrough they crave.
“It will be difficult, in that we expect them to come over and sit in, similar to what they did in their home leg,” he added.
“So, the onus is on us to try to break them down – but we have to try to do that without over-committing.
“It will take patience from everyone. Yes, we want to win the game and we want to score in the first five minutes. But it might take 85 minutes.
“These teams are very good at sitting in and making it difficult for you. We have to understand that and we have to make sure we have tempo in our game and move the ball quickly.
“But we can’t be gung-ho.”