Robbie Neilson has targeted giving Hearts fans the best Christmas present following a year of misery as he prepares for Sunday’s delayed Scottish Cup final.
Hearts can finish 2020 on a high when they take on Celtic after suffering relegation in highly contentious circumstances following the curtailment of last season’s Scottish Premiership campaign.
The prospect of cup glory was a source of encouragement throughout all the recriminations and legal wrangling and Neilson will use the lingering sense of injustice to fire up his players at Hampden.
“Obviously we use that as motivation for every game, not just this game but the league as well,” the Hearts manager said.
“At Hearts you have to go and win every single game and I know we are going in as underdogs against a team who have won the last 11 domestic titles.
“But we believe we have a real opportunity and we feel we have something we can pay the fans back with as well.
“We hope we can get a result, they have a good Christmas and put a smile on their faces after such a difficult year.”
Hearts take on a Celtic side who have won twice in the past week after an alarming slump in form.
But one of their two wins in the previous 12 games came in this tournament and, for Neilson, highlighted how strong Neil Lennon’s side remain.
“Different tournaments can mean different things to different players,” he said.
“People are speaking about Celtic maybe having a bit of a lull and not playing as well as they have but then they go to Hampden and play against Aberdeen in the semi-final and had probably the best 45 minutes they have played in the last year or two. So they can get up for different games.
“We know that, we are not expecting Celtic to turn up and not be at it. We know they will be at it 100 per cent and we have to match that.”
The cup final will be played behind closed doors with much of the preparations affected by the ongoing coronavirus restrictions but Neilson is confident they can prepare properly.
“First and foremost the build-up to the actual week in comparison to other weeks is, we are going into a game where we are not favourites,” said Neilson, who has a full squad.
“In the league, and even the cup to an extent, we are overwhelming favourites most weeks. So we have to work on the defensive side of it a bit more but still have an attacking threat.
“And the actual build-up to the final is much the same as it would if there are fans there, it’s just on the day when you turn up and drive to the stadium there’s no fans there and there’s not the same atmosphere. But the day-to-day build-up is just the same.
“We are staying over (in a hotel) the night before, we will go away like we did before the semi-final and make sure we prepare properly. We need to follow protocols but the guys will be ready.”
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