Hearts pro­ject boost as Neil­son signs up to stay


THE rev­o­lu­tion at Hearts over the past two sea­sons has re­volved around con­ti­nu­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity.

Rob­bie Neil­son’s de­ci­sion to sign a new con­tract un­til the end of the 2017-18 sea­son is clearly re­garded as a cen­tral plank of that joined-up ap­proach.

Of the many prob­lems the pre­vi­ous owner, Vladimir Ro­manov, brought to Tynecas­tle, a re­volv­ing door in the man­ager’s of­fice was merely one.

The cur­rent cus­to­dian, Ann Budge, is clearly ea­ger to en­sure that her part in the jour­ney to­wards even­tual fan own­er­ship con­tains as few un­ex­pected turns in the road as pos­si­ble and made that clear last night when an­nounc­ing that Neil­son and his as­sis­tant, Ste­vie Craw­ford, will re­main in charge of team affairs as the club car­ries on the process of re-es­tab­lish­ing it­self in the top flight.

“I am very pleased to have se­cured Rob­bie and Ste­vie’s ser­vices for the next two sea­sons,” she said. “This is a win-win for ev­ery­one – the club, the play­ers and the sup­port­ers.”

Neil­son, of course, won the SPFL Cham­pi­onship by the prover­bial coun­try mile last sea­son and has the side sit­ting com­fort­ably in fourth in the Lad­brokes Premier­ship ahead of this af­ter­noon’s visit of Kil­marnock.

“We came in with a long-term plan, we’re ahead of sched­ule and very happy with the progress our coach­ing team has made,” stated Craig Levein, the di­rec­tor of foot­ball at the Gorgie club.

Hearts mid­fielder Don Cowie, mean­while, be­lieves the promi­nence of home­grown tal­ent at Tynecas­tle is good news for Scot­tish foot­ball as he urged his pre­co­cious team-mates to knuckle down and re­alise their as­pi­ra­tions for club and coun­try.

The 33-year-old in­sists he has been taken aback by the qual­ity of youth­ful first-team reg­u­lars Sam Ni­chol­son, Jamie Walker, Cal­lum Pater­son and Jor­dan McGhee, de­spite be­ing aware of their bur­geon­ing rep­u­ta­tions prior to his ar­rival last month.

Cowie, capped 10 times him­self, largely dur­ing the ten­ure of cur­rent Hearts di­rec­tor of foot­ball Levein, is par­tic­u­larly en­thused by Pater­son, who he reck­ons has the abil­ity to be a long-term suc­ces­sor to Alan Hut­ton at right-back for the na­tional side.

It bodes well for Hearts, but he is adamant the whole coun­try should be toast­ing the emer­gence of a batch of kids who, he be­lieves, could be in Gor­don Stra­chan’s thoughts next month.

The na­tional boss will name two dif­fer­ent squads for the friendlies against Czech Re­pub­lic and Den­mark as he ex­per­i­ments ahead of the 2018 World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion cam­paign.

“See­ing it close at hand, the club is in a great place – and Scot­land, as a whole, is in a great place,” said the for­mer Wi­gan and Cardiff star.

“Sam Ni­chol­son, Jamie [Walker], Cal­lum [Pater­son] and Jor­dan [McGhee] are re­ally fan­tas­tic young play­ers play­ing at a great level week in, week out, and that can only be good for Hearts and Scot­tish foot­ball.

“I would be sur­prised if one or two play­ers from Hearts do not make at least one of those squads. I think they need to have those as­pi­ra­tions.”

Cowie ap­pears to be rev­el­ling in his role as el­der states­man at Hearts.

He is keen to help the young­sters ful­fil their po­ten­tial and looks back on his own ca­reer, and how drive and de­ter­mi­na­tion took him from Ross County’s mod­est youth ranks to the English Premier League.

“At Ross County in my first two years as an ap­pren­tice, I prob­a­bly came across 30 or 40 play­ers,” he said.

“I don’t think there are any of them still play­ing foot­ball. I knuck­led down, gave it ev­ery­thing I could, doors opened and I got for­tu­nate.

“If [the Hearts young­sters] want to achieve things, it’s there for them. There’s no doubt the abil­ity is there.”

VI­TAL ROLE: Rob­bie Neil­son’s de­ci­sion to ex­tend his con­tract at Hearts has de­lighted the club’s owner Ann Budge

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