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8 of 030 Bruno Aguiar 32 L SPL H

Neilson insists Old Firm fear factor has gone

HEARTS are no longer shackled by the fear factor when they face the Old Firm and will seize the opportunity in the SPL's match of the day against Celtic at Tynecastle to relish the cut and thrust of such a critical encounter, according to their captain, Robbie Neilson.
Having joined the youth team in Gorgie as a teenager in 1996, Neilson has spent plenty of seasons at Tynecastle playing second fiddle to Rangers and Celtic. "I don't think there's the same fear now when you go to Parkhead and Ibrox," reflected the defender.

"I've been there a few times and got turned over in the past. Now you can be more confident of picking up points. And when they come to Tynecastle, we know we can win there. You look forward to taking part in a big game and there's no fear."

It goes without saying Hearts have plenty of respect for the league leaders, who won 2-0 at Tynecastle in November. The longer the season has lasted, however, the more formidable Hearts have become.

In the opinion of the long-serving right-back, much of the credit for the team's progress is down to the influence of manager Csaba Laszlo.

"He's got an enthusiasm about him – he's entertaining and enlightening as well," said the captain.

"He has definitely got the respect of the dressing room. He keeps everyone on their toes and they all listen to what he has to say. He has some good points and has united us all. He has got us driving forward together.

"He was an unknown quantity when he came here last summer, but sometimes you need a change at a club. He has changed a lot at the academy in the way things are run and everything is moving in a different direction with the training programme. It's working, because we're sitting in third place.

"Judge it on results, and from that point of view he has been successful. I wouldn't say it was more professional, it's just being done in a different way, more of a continental (influence]. A lot of his previous work was in Germany and you can see that coming through. The sessions we do are in the continental way, I think."

While Celtic will be motivated by the incentive of winning the title over the closing weeks of the campaign, Hearts are similarly galvanised by the challenge of finishing third.

"I don't know how the manager feels – he always talks about the top six – but for me third place is the minimum we should be looking for," said Neilson. "At the start of the season you have the hope of challenging for the title, then, if you lose out on that, you look for second and then, third.

"We're seven points clear in third with seven games left, which means we're in a great position. If we don't hold on to that place, then that would be a failure. That's how I feel."

Neilson believes if Hearts return to Europe next season it will be helpful for the players to have home games staged in the buoyant atmosphere of Tynecastle rather than the soulless surroundings of Murrayfield. He reckons qualifying for the Europa League would also help to lure more quality players to the Edinburgh club.

"This summer will be very important for Hearts and if we can invest in a few players then we'll have a great chance of challenging," he said. "If we can stabilise and get European football, then that has a big appeal for getting boys into the club. If you can say: 'Come to us and play in the Europa League', it will be more appealing."

After producing one of their most fluent performances of the season in defeating Kilmarnock last weekend, Hearts will need to call on all of their new found resolve to trouble Gordon Strachan's league leaders.

Laszlo took the opportunity in person to assess Celtic at Parkhead when they defeated Falkirk 4-0 on Wednesday evening. He takes the view that you can never have too much information and knowledge is power. "What we do here doesn't happen by accident," he said. "It's very important to be informed."

And Neilson was upbeat about his team's chances against Celtic. He added: "Celtic had a difficult game on Wednesday night against Falkirk – they were under pressure but still got the result. I'm sure they'll be looking to come to Tynecastle to win. But we're looking to get the three points ourselves and are confident. All the games are important from now."

Taken from the Scotsman

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