Hearts manager Robbie Neilson insists he understands the supporters’ fury as owner Ann Budge pleads with fans not to break Covid-19 laws with a protest outside Tynecastle.
The club’s faithful are still reeling from Tuesday’s 2-1 Scottish Cup defeat at Highland League leaders Brora Rangers – a result described as one of the worst in Hearts’ history.
However, Budge yesterday implored disgruntled fans not to congregate outside the stadium before Saturday’s Championship clash with Queen of the South.
In a statement Budge said: “We completely respect the right of any and all of our supporters to make their voices heard and feelings known in a peaceful and law-abiding manner.
“However we are aware, from social media, that there is the suggestion of a fans protest at Tynecastle Park on Saturday prior to our Championship fixture with Queen of The South.
“We do not need to remind anyone that we are still in the midst of A worldwide pandemic during which our focus has at all times been on ensuring the safety and security of everyone at Tynecastle.
“Nor do we need to remind you that it is unlawful for crowds to gather in public places due to current Covid restrictions.
“We must, therefore, urge all fans, in the strongest possible manner, not to congregate at Tynecastle Park on Saturday.”
Despite being locked out of stadia due to the pandemic, Hearts fans have made it clear on social media and through online forums that they have had enough of Neilson as boss.
That is despite Hearts being 16 points clear at the top of the Championship and within touching distance of an immediate return to the top-flight.
Speaking yesterday before Budge released her statement, Neilson, who returned for a second stint in the Tynecastle dugout last summer, made it clear that he is well aware of the strength of feeling regarding his position.
Neilson said: “Tuesday wasn’t acceptable. We understand that and I totally understand the backlash from the fans.
“If I was a fan I’d be doing the same thing.
“There’s nobody hurting more than me about it and nobody wanting to try and move this place forward more and not have nights like that again.”
Asked if he had a message for any disillusioned supporters who were considering cancelling their direct debits to the Foundation of Hearts,
the fans group who have handed over in excess of £11 million to the club, Neilson added: “The Hearts fans are an unbelievable fanbase, one of the best in the world.
“They’ve supported this club through thick and thin.
“This year has been very difficult for everyone associated with the club.
“We’ve had a demotion to the Championship, having to build back up, fans not able to come to games, and then Tuesday night’s result.
“I think it’s important we all stick together and get this club back where it belongs.
“It’s going to be a twisting road with ups and downs along the way, but that’s part and parcel of being a Hearts fan.
“If you want to go and win every week, then people go and support Man United or Man City, teams like that.
“The crux of being a Hearts fan is that they stick together. I’ve been a Hearts fan since I walked in this door at 16 years old.
“It’s a fantastic place to work. We can’t thank the fans enough for the support they give the Foundation because to be honest it keeps the club alive through dark times and difficult times.”
Neilson admits Budge has also made it clear to him that Tuesday’s result was not acceptable.
He added: “I’ve spoken to Ann a couple of times. She is always open and honest about her thoughts.
“Like myself and the rest of the Hearts fans, she is bitterly disappointed with Tuesday’s result.
“That’s part of my job to take the flak – to take the flak and the stick that comes externally.”
Hearts owner Budge also said in the statement: “The board, management and staff fully understand and share the anger and strength of feeling being expressed by our fans following what was a totally unacceptable performance and result on Tuesday evening.
“We can only echo the comments made by Robbie Neilson after the game.
“He was stunned and embarrassed, as were we all, by our exit at this stage of the Scottish Cup.
“It was, as the manager said, completely unacceptable and fell way below the standards that we set and expect at Hearts.
“Everyone associated with the club feels let down.
“However the most important thing now is to bounce back. At the start of this season every single one of us agreed that, above all else, this year was about winning the Championship and getting back to where we belong.
“We are on the cusp of achieving that objective.
“Let’s not risk success now by allowing frustration and anger to knock us off course. We still have a job to finish.”