Long-Term Prospects Win Over Short-Term Gain
Hearts have turned down the chance of a replay against Barcelona as a glamour pre-season game. With money being a driving force in football, the prospect of another 58,000 fans turning up with money in their hands for an undoubted exciting prospect of a game must have been tempting. However, the long-term view appears to have prevailed after examining the impact last July's game had on the current season. Hearts cannot afford another poor season on the back of this one and full-back Robbie Neilson has backed moves not to face the Catalans in another glamour game to focus instead on preparing the team for the new campaign next term. Hearts lost the 2007 game 3-1 and came off second best against the star-studded Spaniards, prompting Neilson to claim that the game actually worked against the Gorgie outfit in the long-term. Hearts have since suffered a nightmare of a season and must beat Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on Saturday to have any chance of reaching the top six.
Neilson said: "It's a positive sign from the club. At the start of this season, it was great to play Barcelona. But it was only a week before the season and it was probably more important for us to play a Scottish or British team that played the same kind of football as us. I think that would have been more competitive, as in that game we got chased about a wee bit. It's good the club has realised that and it's more committed to the start of the season as opposed to a financial money-spinner."
All the pre-season talk of challenging the Old Firm for the title this season is a dim and distant memory and must hope Aberdeen do them a favour by beating Falkirk at home on Monday night to make the top six - if they manage to win over Killie on Saturday. If the Jam-tarts win at the weekend, Aberdeen would have to record a massive victory over the Bairns at Pittodrie to overtake Hearts on goal difference. Neilson went on: "At the start of the season, if you'd said that at this point we'd still be struggling to get into the top six and looking for favours from other teams, we'd be very disappointed. But that's the situation we find ourselves in just now and we need to be positive to try to get the win. We should be in the top six a lot earlier and concentrating on qualifying for Europe up the top of the league. After a difficult season like this, it will make us stronger. I'm sure we won't struggle next year."
Ger Harley (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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