ROBBIE NEILSON is adamant Hearts will be ready for their Scottish Cup showdown against Hibs – despite having less than a month of competitive action under their belts.
The Jambos’ season will begin with Betfred Cup duty at the start of October before they face Dundee and Arbroath in Championship action.
Neilson’s men have scarce time to knock the rust off before crossing swords with their Edinburgh rivals at Hampden on Hallowe’en weekend for a place in the rearranged 2019/20 showpiece.
The lack of time afforded for the men in maroon to prepare has raised a few eyebrows among the Gorgie faithful – but Neilson says he has no problem with the timeframe.
“It’s a great thing and a great target for us,” said the head coach. “The players here all want to be involved in big games and it doesn’t get any bigger than that for us.
“That’s why it’s important that we have the focus of a big league opener [against Dundee]. That’s important, but it’s more important to make sure we get through that semi-final.
“Match sharpness isn’t a worry because we’re going to take on a lot of games during pre-season.
“We’ll start on the 21st of August – that’s the first game we’ll play, with a lot more to play during pre-season – to make sure we get that match sharpness.
“We’ve got a few of those confirmed already but nothing’s been announced. There’s a couple that are nailed down but we’re still looking for a few more.”
Neilson, who confirmed that John Souttar and Peter Haring will resume full training in late August, will be aided behind the scenes by new club advisor Jim Jefferies, who will aid Ann Budge and her fellow board members on a range of footballing matters.
And the former Dundee United and MK Dons boss reckons his familiarity with the Hearts icon will be a major benefit, having worked under Jefferies as a youngster and following regular interactions at functions and games.
“I’m really pleased with the conversations we’ve had,” Neilson continued. “In terms of the relationship, we obviously knew each other before which makes it a lot easier.
“We’re in contact a few times a week and I spoke to him on Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s going well and it’s good to have Jim’s experience there.
“When I started at Hearts, Jim was here as the manager for four or five years so I know him well.
“I’ve seen him over the years just through bumping into him at Hearts events, so the relationship doesn’t need to be built; it’s already there.”
Neilson, meanwhile, has confirmed that he is closing in on the appointment of Lee McCulloch to his Hearts coaching staff, and could also move for Gordon Forrest.
The trio made up the Dundee United backroom staff which romped to the Championship title last term and he is keen to mastermind a reunion at Tynecastle.
Neilson added: “We’re still talking to Lee and I’d like to try and get him in pretty soon. I worked with him at Dundee United and he was brilliant up there.
“He had a good relationship with the players and the staff and we’ll progress that one in the coming weeks.
“Gordon’s also a possibility but we’ll just need to wait and see how that one goes.”