Hearts boss stresses importance of remaining top of Championship amid continued Covid-19 disruption

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Hearts manager Robbie Neilson has stressed the importance of remaining top of the Championship in case the SPFL decide to end the season prematurely for the second year running.

The Gorgie side were one of side affected from last term’s curtailment during the first lockdown after controversially being relegated from the top-flight on a points per game basis.

By the same token, the teams who led the Championship, League One and League Two were all promoted as champions.

Hearts boss Robbie Neilson with manager of month award | Hearts news
Hearts had a 100 per cent league record in December

Neilson was relieved on Monday to discover that the second tier was not affected by the decision to suspend most of Scottish football due to the ongoing pandemic.

All leagues outside of the top two divisions, including women’s football, were shelved until January 31.

Many clubs in the lower echelons are furious with the decision, with several fearing that their leagues will once again be brought to a premature end.

Asked if the ongoing uncertainty provided extra motivation to remain top, Neilson, whose team travel to Alloa on Saturday, replied: “One hundred per cent, we have to make sure we stay at the top of the league and hold our position. 

“We’ve managed to do that so far and we have to continue it. 

“It’s so important to keep winning games. We’ve another game on Saturday we need to go and win. Dunfermline, Dundee, Inverness and Raith Rovers are all pushing and in a shorter season, you need to make sure you stay in front as long as possible.”

Neilson, who was named SPFL manager of the month for December, added: “There was relief when the Championship wasn’t suspended. To be honest we were unsure how it would work out.

“When we got the email through it was a bit of a shock that Leagues One, Two and below had been postponed, and we weren’t sure what was going to happen.

“Thankfully for our perspective they have kept the league going, now we have to make sure we keep ourselves in a position to get promoted.

“We have to make sure we stay at the top of the league and hold our position.”

Neilson, meanwhile, is looking forward to handing Gary Mackay-Steven his debut in tomorrow’s league clash at Alloa.

The former Celtic, Aberdeen and Dundee United winger joined last week after leaving New York City.

He added: “To get him in the Championship is a real coup. We were in a good position in that Gary wanted to come home and we were in a position to bring someone in. 

“I know him well and he knows a few of the players here so it’s worked out very well. You can see what he’s added in training already. He’s a top player.

“When you look at the size of the club, the training ground, the facilities and the potential here, we want to be back at the top end of the Premiership. But we have to get there. 

“We’re a Championship club just now but we have guys who believe we’re going to get there. 

“Gary came in and we had a good chat about where we are at the moment and what we want to do in the future and he was very keen.”