Robbie Neilson hails Hearts players’ ‘flexibility’ after good start to season

·3 min read

Robbie Neilson has praised the adaptability of his high-flying Hearts players after their unbeaten start to the cinch Premiership campaign.

The manager usually favours a 3-4-3 formation when all his key men are available but, with wing-back Michael Smith out injured, he switched to a 4-1-4-1 system for last weekend’s 2-2 draw away to Ross County.

Neilson is impressed at how adept his players are at dealing with any tactical tweaks.

He said: “We spoke with the players at the start of the season about playing two different shapes. One was how we normally play and the other was how we played up at Dingwall.

“It’s about having that flexibility to change the shape either before the game or in the game. We have to try different things. We can’t be too consistent in what we’re doing. We have ways that we want to play but depending on personnel and who we’re playing against, we need to be flexible.

“Whether we’re more comfortable with three at the back depends who’s in our three, who we put at wing-back, who the midfield two are. We had four at the back at Ross County and probably looked more susceptible to losing goals than we did with three.

“It really depends on the personnel. We decided to go with four defenders and one (midfield) sitter at Ross County because we wanted more attack-minded players in the team, and if we’d come in at half-time 6-2 ahead you’d have thought it was the right score but instead we came in 2-1 down.

“One of the reasons we decided to play the 3-4-3 system is that we have John Souttar and Stephen Kingsley who can pass the ball out from the back. Although we changed it last week because of the personnel we had, I think it’s a system that we’ll try and keep to as much as we can.”

Smith and Josh Ginnelly are back in contention after injury so Neilson has a full-strength squad for this weekend’s home match to Livingston.

He is braced for a difficult challenge against a side who notched their first league win against Celtic last weekend.

The manager said: “I’m expecting a tough game from Livingston. They had a brilliant result against Celtic on Sunday and I was at Ibrox on Wednesday and they were 0-0 for almost 50 minutes. They didn’t have a massive threat going forward but they shut Rangers out for a while.

“They make it very difficult for you to play. They’re well organised and they work extremely hard. They’ve got some threats in their team as well that can catch you out if you switch off. At the start of every year, people look at them as a team that could potentially go down but they always prove people wrong.”

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