Sport Robbie Neilson already relishing Hearts v Hibs Scottish Cup semi-final and unveils plan to wipe out rivals' advantage

09:26  31 july  2020
09:26  31 july  2020 Source:   msn.com

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Robbie Neilson made all the right noises about Hearts ’ playing Dundee on the opening day of the Championship season, but it’s the Scottish Cup semi-final against Hibs that’s really got him going.

The Jambos will begin their assault on the second tier title against the Dees at Tynecastle on 17 October, but the big one takes place at Hampden less than a fortnight later.

And as far as Neilson is concerned, winning that is top of his agenda already.

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He suffered Scottish Cup humiliation back in 2016 when Hearts blew a two-goal lead at home to their then Championship neighbours

Neilson was slammed by fans for describing the replay as a “money spinner” before going on to lose 1-0 at Easter Road.

That was only made worse by the Hibees going on to break their 114-year hoodoo.

This time, the Gorgie gaffer has a laser-like focus on the derby, even though it’s still three months away.

Many have suggested Jack Ross’ side will have the edge due to having plenty of competitive action under their belts by then.

But Neilson is unconcerned with the timing and unveiled his plan to try and wipe that advantage out.

“It’s a great thing and a great target for us,” he said. “The players here all want to be involved in big games and it doesn’t get any bigger than that for us, that’s for sure.

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“That’s why it’s important that we have the focus of the league. That’s important, but it’s more important to make sure we get through that semi-final.

“We’re going to take on a lot of games during pre-season. We’ll start on 21 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.

“Then we won’t have any issue going into Dundee having played only five or six games. But by the time the Dundee game comes around, we’ll potentially have had about ten to 12 games.

“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.”

That busy schedule will be especially beneficial to Peter Haring and John Souttar.

Haring missed the whole of last season with a pelvic issue and hasn’t played since the 2019 Scottish Cup final.

Souttar ruptured his Achilles in February’s quarter-final victory over Rangers, having done the other on the opening day last season against Aberdeen.

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But Neilson revealed what pre-season will look like for the duo when they return on Monday.

“Both of them will be good to go for a return to training,” he said. “They’ve both been running over this period and both of them will come in on Monday. They won’t be involved with the squad but they’ll be doing the conditioning work with them.

“The plan is by the end of August that they’ll be back doing full training with the team.”

As for future new arrivals, Neilson insists the lack of compensation following the arbitration ruling won’t change his plans.

He explained: “I had a meeting with Ann yesterday and the rest of the board as well, and we had a chat about that. We’re still aiming for the same areas and want to do the same things with the squad. We need to improve it and it’s a case of trying to get that done.”

Jim Jefferies standing in front of a crowd © SNS Group

To that end, Neilson has had his first big meeting with advisor Jim Jefferies, and has stayed in regular dialogue since.

“It went really well and I’m really pleased with the conversations we’ve had,” he said. “In terms of the relationship, we obviously knew each other before which makes it a lot easier.

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“We’re in contact a few times a week and I spoke to him on Tuesday night and again yesterday. So 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 and I know him well, so the relationship doesn’t need to be built; it’s already there.”

One target he missed out on was Sam Nicholson, who chose Bristol City over a return to Hearts.

“We’d spoken to him but Sam wanted to go down and play in England, which we respect,” Neilson said. “Obviously he’s already played in Scotland, played in the MLS and he felt he wanted to go down there and try it.

“I’ve got a great relationship with Sam and you never know, in the future we might get him back here at some point because there’s no doubt that he’s a very good player.

“But there’s a lot of players out there in the current climate, especially with the potential capping of salaries.

“So there’s definitely going to be opportunities to get some good players in.”

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