Under-pressure Hearts manager Robbie Neilson is hoping next weekend’s Edinburgh derby can help his faltering side snap out of their malaise.
The Jambos relinquished third place in the cinch Premiership for the first time this calendar year when they slumped to a fifth consecutive defeat against St Mirren on Saturday.
Neilson was jeered at full-time, with large sections of the support calling for his departure amid fears that the Tynecastle side are about to blow the chance of automatic European group-stage qualification next term.
The embattled manager remains adamant he can turn things round and is optimistic that a trip to Hibernian – against whom Hearts are unbeaten in the last eight meetings – will spark an upturn in form.
“At the start of the season you always look at when the derbies are, it’s the big one,” he said.
“It’s an opportunity to go there and change things. The derbies almost take care of themselves with the build-up, the energy you need to bring, the fanbase with the away fans.
“It’s one where we’d like to be going in with better form, ultimately we’re not, but it’s a chance to try and turn things around.”
The Jambos lost 2-0 on Saturday after Curtis Main and Alex Gogic scored within five minutes of each other, shortly before home midfielder Robert Snodgrass was sent off in the 62nd minute for a second bookable offence.
“We’ll try and get it out of our system and then build positively towards next week,” said Neilson. “That will involve speaking to the players as a collective and then individually to get them going again, get that feelgood factor back.
“We’re not going to be going into the derby at 100 per cent confidence levels but we need to try and build it up.”
Neilson hopes to have goalkeeper Zander Clark and forward Josh Ginnelly back for the derby after the key duo missed out with hamstring and foot injuries respectively on Saturday.
“Hopefully we’ll have Zander and Ginnelly back for that one,” he said. “I thought we missed them both (against St Mirren). It will be good to get them back in.”
Fifth-placed St Mirren are now five points clear of seventh-placed Livingston and on course for a top-six finish for the first time since the split was introduced in the Premiership more than two decades ago.
Asked if he felt his team were safe in the top six, boss Stephen Robinson said: “No, not yet. Can we still get relegated? I’ll sleep better when I know we can’t get relegated.
“This group of players just keep defying the odds. The squad we have here have got a real belief in them, We believed we could come here and win today – there was no bravado in that.
“We believed we could do that. We proved that and now we need to go to Ibrox and get points. The top six will be guaranteed when no one can catch us and at the moment, teams can still catch us.”
Asked about his side’s hopes of qualifying for Europe, Robinson said: “We need to get into the top six first but we’ve proved we can compete with anybody. We’ve beaten Hearts who were third in the table before today, we’ve drawn with Rangers, we’ve beaten Celtic, so we don’t fear anybody. When we’re disciplined and play within our shape we’re a very difficult team to break down.”
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