Tuesday, August 9, 2022
SportHeartsHearts boss relishing derby against former team-mate

Hearts boss relishing derby against former team-mate

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson is looking forward to locking horns with former team-mate and new Hibs boss Lee Johnson, but is determined to make sure that the derby bragging rights remain in Gorgie.

The pair lined up in the successful Hearts team that split the Old Firm and won the Scottish Cup in 2006 and have kept in touch since.

Johnson even sent a tongue-in-cheek warning to Neilson during his unveiling as Easter Road manager last month, saying: “I’m coming for you curly toe’.

That remark was in reference to what Johnson claimed was the right-back’s dodgy crossing ability.

Neilson is in Spain with the Hearts squad at a training camp (Pic supplied by Hearts FC)

Johnson’s assistant Jamie McAllister was also part of that Hearts team 16 years ago and they will go head-to-head in the second weekend of the Premiership season when Hearts make the trip to Leith.

Neilson, whose Hearts side are the team to beat outside of the Old Firm after finishing third in the Premiership last season, said: “Wee Johnno, I know him very well. Jamie as well. I played with him for a number of years.

“We’ve had a conversation here and there but when the derby comes, the derby comes and everyone is wanting to win.

“I’ve kept in touch with Lee a wee bit since our playing days, going back and forward.

“I’ve known him since he came up here in 2006 and we’ve always kind of kept in contact.

“It’s nice to see him back in management, but hopefully he’s not successful!”

The Edinburgh derby has already been pencilled into the diary by both sets of fans but Hearts will be looking to get the campaign off to a winning start a week earlier when they host Ross County.

Hearts are in Spain for a training camp and Hearts will step up their preparations today with a friendly against Europa FC of Gibraltar this evening.

However, Neilson, whose team will also enter the Europa League at the play-off stage on August 18, insists their full attention is on the County match despite the excitement of a derby just eight days later.

He said: “You want to play in these big games, but our focus has got to be on Ross County at home and make sure we win that.

“We’ve got European games after that which need to be put to bed.

“The derby yes, you’re always thinking about it when it comes but the first one’s got to be Ross County and be ready for that.”

Neilson, meanwhile, insists he was glad Hearts signed Kye Rowles before he enhanced his profile one the international scene.

The defender joined from Central Coast Mariners on June 9, just a week after made his debut for Australia in a friendly against Jordan.

Rowles then impressed as the Socceroos beat the UAE and Peru to secure a place at the World Cup in Qatar.

The 24-year-old will link up with the squad when they return from Spain after both he and Hearts right-back Nathaniel Atkinson were given extra time off following their exploits with Australia.

Neilson said: “We were glad to get him in before his international career took off. We knew he was a good player who would be around the squad but he has obviously played in both games and done really well. I think he will be an excellent player for us.”

We have Atkinson there and Cammy Devlin, so this gives these guys a carrot to either stay in there or get in the World Cup squad. It’s great for us as well.”

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