Hearts manager Robbie Neilson found the team’s ‘bad blips’ difficult under the pressure of getting the club back to the Scottish Premiership at the first time of asking.
But the Tynecastle boss insisted they are back on the road to success after protecting his players from the backlash of some bad results.
A spell of just two wins in nine games between February and April – including the shock Scottish Cup defeat to Brora Rangers – caused a furious reaction from supporters, with a small group of fans gathering outside the stadium to protest against the performances and call for Neilson and club owner Ann Budge to resign.
But after securing the Championship title, Neilson said he could deal with the pressure and guide the team back to form.
He said: “It has been a tough year and there is more pressure on this club because we had to get straight back up.
“But, for me, when you play for Hearts that’s part of the joy of being here.
“I’ve been at smaller clubs where there isn’t that pressure and I don’t think it pushes you as hard and there’s not as much enjoyment when you achieve something.
“I’ve been at MK Dons when we had a real tough time and I ended up leaving. I’ve been at Dundee United when we went right to penalty kicks in the [promotion] play-off, then having to recover after that [defeat].
“I have had periods this season when it has been difficult but it is part and parcel of being a manager and your job is to recover from it quickly and make sure the players are protected from it.”
The 40-year-old said that making sure the individuals in his squad were not badly affected by online criticism was now one of the key parts of his job as a manager.
Neilson said: “The players, 99% of them are on social media and they see the things that are being said.
“Social media is generally a negative area to be, but this is the way the younger [players] are, they are on social media constantly.
“So it is about trying to protect them from that, reassuring them about where we are and putting a little bit of perspective on where things are going.
“We have had some blips this season – some big blips – but we have also had some really good performances and we are sitting in a position where if we get a result on Friday night [away to Raith Rovers] then we have hit the target for where we wanted to be.
“If you look at our points-per-game it would be one of the best performances in the history of the Championship so it is important to put it into perspective.”
After Friday’s final match of the regular Championship season the Hearts players will take a fortnight off before re-starting with home training programmes in the build-up to the 2021/22 season, with the newly rebranded Premier Sports Cup kicking off on July 10.
Neilson pinpointed cup competitions as an area needing big improvements following the Brora embarrassment and being knocked out of this season’s League Cup by Alloa Athletic.
It will be his first full transfer window working with sporting director Joe Savage and the Hearts manager was clear that players would need to be recruited to improve the team.
Neilson said: “Joe has been fantastic since he came in, we were delighted to get him here. He brings knowledge of the transfer market and he can deal with agents.
“My role is to win on a Saturday and make the final selection on players but it is very difficult as a manager to look at 50 players a day and try to siphon them down – I just don’t have the time to do it.
“So getting Joe in has been brilliant and I am really looking forward to the summer, working together to get the right players.
“Because there is no doubting that we have to improve if we are moving forward to get ourselves up near the top end of the Premiership.”
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