ROBBIE NEILSON has lavished praise on Craig Wighton, insisting Hearts’ hat-trick hero has played his way into contention for their Championship opener against Dundee.
Wighton, without a goal since joining the Jambos from the Dee in August 2018, broke his duck in scintillating style against Raith Rovers on Wednesday, netting twice from the spot before completing his treble with a wonderful solo strike.
Speaking after the 3-1 triumph over the Fifers, Neilson revealed that he had challenged Wighton to take advantage of Liam Boyce’s absence due to international commitments with Northern Ireland.
And the 23-year-old grasped that opportunity.
“I’m delighted for Craig,” beamed Neilson. “I have known him since he was a young kid. I tried to sign him previously and really like him as a player.
“He played really well against my Dundee United side for Arbroath and I know Dick [Campbell] was desperate to get him back there on loan but I was wanted to keep him and give him a chance.
“He’s given me a decision for Friday night against Dundee. That’s what I asked from him, with Boycie [Liam Boyce] away on international duty – and he’s done that.”
Neilson, meanwhile, has expressed his satisfaction after Hearts made it nine points from nine in Betfred Cup Group A, albeit the performances have lacked fluidity at times.
However, he is adamant the serious business begins with the visit of Dundee, bossed by his old Tayside rival and ex-Hibs captain James McPake.
He added: “These were a warm-up for the league, we wanted to get through them and now it’s onto the league business with nine points on the board – with five goals and one conceded. You need to be pleased.
“We wanted a winning mentality from these games and we’ve done that. After eight changes [against Raith], we’re still winning and we need that from anyone who steps on the pitch at Tynecastle. Regardless of who we play, they need to win games.”