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Craig Levein <-auth Paul Kiddie auth-> Mike McCurry
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2 of 005 Steven Pressley 79 L SPL A

Neilson craves a starting berth


HEARTS defender Robbie Neilson ended an 18-month wait for a first-team recall when he faced Dundee United at the weekend - and now he’s determined to stay in manager Craig Levein’s plans.

The full-back was given his opportunity due to the absence of the injured Alan Maybury, the Irishman having missed the 2-1 triumph with the start of a two-match suspension.

It was a rare opportunity for Neilson, whose last top team outing came in September 2001 - ironically against the Tangerines at Tynecastle.

On that occasion the youngster failed to appear for the second half after a poor opening 45 minutes, Levein swinging the axe as Hearts crashed to a 2-1 defeat.

That was the last time the 22-year-old kicked a ball in earnest for the first team as he drifted out of things in Gorgie.

Frustrated at the lack of opportunities, Neilson jumped at the chance to join Queen of the South on loan last year, the full-back returning to Tynecastle in January after a six-month stay at John Connelly’s Doonhamers.

Levein had been hoping the spell in Dumfries would help restore the defender’s confidence, and judging by his display against United on Saturday, the Gorgie ace certainly reaped the reward of the Palmerston switch which saw him win his first senior medal with glory in the Bell’s Cup.

He slotted comfortably in to what was a new and inexperienced back line at the weekend, Hearts having been forced to go into the game minus Maybury as well as the injured Steven Pressley and Stephane Mahe.

But if Neilson was feeling any pressure on his return to the big stage it failed to show as the full-back produced a composed performance against Ian McCall’s strugglers.

"That was my first game for Hearts for a while but I felt good," he said. "I felt fit and a lot better than I did the last time I played in the first team.

"I think the move to Queen of the South has really helped me. I was delighted to get the chance to go down there as I was right out of the picture at Tynecastle at that stage."

With Maybury also banned for this weekend’s trip to Firhill and the clash with Partick Thistle, Neilson is set to keep his place for the journey west.

And he is hoping that another decent display will give his manager some food for thought as regards the remainder of the season and the final push for Europe.

"Hopefully I will get another chance this weekend against Thistle," he said. "Alan is still out so all I can do is play as well as I can and then leave it up to the gaffer.

"If he wants to keep me in, then great. It has happened here before this season that when someone has been given the chance and made the most of the opportunity they have kept the jersey. Gary Wales kept Andy Kirk out of the team after first getting his chance when Kirky was injured.

"The boss has done it with the strikers so maybe he will do the same thing with the defence. Whatever happens I know I have to do well this Saturday to try to put pressure on the boss to keep me in."

For long spells on Saturday it appeared as if Danny Griffin’s magnificent first-half strike would dent Hearts’ European aspirations.

However, goals from Andy Webster and Kirk kept the points at Tynecastle and ensured the Jambos stayed three points ahead of in-form Kilmarnock.

With Jim Jefferies’ side turning on the style to demolish hapless Hibs 6-2 at Rugby Park - former Jambos star Gary McSwegan was the architect in chief with a stunning four-goal haul - Neilson knows the win over United was a vital result.

"We may not have scored six goals and it may not have been the prettiest but we got same three points and that is all that matters at this stage of the season," he said.

Taken from the Scotsman

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