Hearts boss outlines Premiership target and responds to fans trophy campaign

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Hearts manager Robbie Neilson insists he is not looking beyond the initial target of a top six finish in next season’s return to the Premiership.

Neilson – in his first stint in the Tynecastle dugout – immediately followed up masterminding a Championship title success in 2015 with a third place spot in the top-flight.

Hearts are once again planning for an assault on the elite league after taking the chequered flag in the second tier on April 10.

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson | Hearts news
Hearts boss Neilson is eyeing victory at Morton tonight

However, after finishing bottom in last season’s curtailed Premiership and with a squad overhaul expected, Neilson is refusing to make, in the public domain at least, lofty aims for his players.

Neilson, whose side play their third last Championship clash this evening at Morton, said: “The target first and foremost is to try and get in the top six. 

“There’s a lot of good teams up there that have been in the league for a while now so we need to recruit very well in the summer. 

“There’s a very good core to the squad but we need to make changes. 

“The objective year one was promotion; year two try to get into the top six then year three, push on from there. 

“We don’t want to get too far ahead but the main aim is to get into that top six.”

However, Neilson admits recruitment plans for next season have accelerated since the title was confirmed, with the former Hearts defender highlighting the difficulties he faced last summer.

He added: “The earlier you wrap it up the better and this year we’re on a level playing field with everyone else. 

“Last year we were very late going into the market because we didn’t know whether we were going to be in the Championship or the top flight. 

“We then had the league starting and us training a lot later so we missed out on a lot of targets we wanted to bring in. 

“Also players didn’t want to come and play in the Championship so this year we’ve managed to get over the line early and we can start planning.

“We’re a team that is going to be in the top flight, we know when the league is going to start so it gives us a much bigger advantage than last year, that’s for sure.”

Hearts will be presented with the league trophy in Saturday’s visit of Inverness, although some fans have started a ‘Leave it on the stand’ online campaign as a protest against how the club were treated by the SPFL during last season’s controversial ending to the season.

Asked about whether the players would lift the silverware aloft, Neilson replied: “It’s not something we’ve discussed at all. 

“We’ve got three games to go and first and foremost Tuesday night is one we have to go and win to set us up for the game on Saturday. 

“I haven’t discussed it with the players and they haven’t discussed it amongst themselves.”

Meanwhile, Hearts midfielder Aaron McEneff, a January arrival from Shamrock Rovers, said: “Playing in the Premiership was a massive draw for me coming here and promotion was always the target for the club.

“To get over the line was great and I am really looking forward to next season.

“Hearts are a massive club in Scottish football and they don’t belong in the Championship.

“I was sitting watching the scores when it was confirmed we were champions.

“It was strange but it also happened to me last season when I won the league with Shamrock Rovers.

“Now it has happened again in the space of a few months. 

“We could have maybe done it sooner but now we can look forward to the last three games.”