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John Robertson <-auth Paul Kiddie auth-> Levan Paniashvili
[D Rosa 30]
9 of 025 ----- E H

Basel hero has all the incentive he needs


ROBBIE Neilson was Hearts’ unlikely hero with his dramatic late winner in Basel - but the defender insists his glory strike will count for nothing if Hearts fail to make it through to the last 32 of the UEFA Cup.

Just when it appeared as if the Jambos would be forced to settle for a point in Switzerland three weeks ago, the 24-year-old popped up to smash home a last-minute clincher.

The victory was arguably the best ever recorded on foreign soil by the Gorgie club and propelled them to within touching distance of participation in Europe beyond Christmas for the first time in 15 years.

Murrayfield is once again the stage for what could prove to be another historic occasion for Hearts, although John Robertson’s outfit will require a favour from Feyenoord to ensure further progress.

The Jambos know that nothing less than a victory over Ferencvaros will do this evening - a fact Robbo’s attack-minded formation is set to reflect - but even then celebrations cannot be assured.

Providing the hosts see off the Hungarians, Hearts will edge home in third place in Group A as long as Basel fail to beat Ruud Gullit’s side.

It’s an unusual situation but Neilson knows the players can ill afford to take their focus off the task immediately in front of them tonight. he said: "It was a really important goal I scored to win the match in Switzerland and it took a couple of days for it all to sink in. We knew we had to win that match and to be honest I wasn’t bothered if it was me or not who scored, as long as we got the points.

"However, it will count for nothing if we don’t get through to the last 32.

"We have a chance and all we can do is take care of our side of the deal and then hope that Feyenoord help us with a good result in Switzerland.

"We have to go out tonight and try to win as comprehensively as we can and then just hope for the best.

"Unfortunately, it is one of these nights when we could win 3-0 and still go out.

"If we play well and get a good result it is just a case of then finding out what happened in Basel."

Hearts prepared for tonight’s clash with a disappointing draw against Inverness Caley Thistle at Pittodrie on Saturday.

Having had Andy Webster dismissed in the first half, the visitors went ahead through Paul Hartley’s second half opener after the break only for that effort to be cancelled out by Juanjo’s penalty.

While Robertson was happy to settle for a point under the circumstances, the level of performance will have to be picked up if Hearts are to retain hopes of continuing their march through Europe.

"After having a man sent off at Pittodrie, I suppose we were happy enough with the point," said Neilson. "It was disappointing not to win the match but we have to put it behind us as we have a huge game tonight and we will need to improve. It is a massive night for the club and hopefully we will play a lot better than we did in Aberdeen.

"We will have to if we are to beat Ferencvaros. There is a lot to play for and with a bit of luck Feyenoord can do us a wee turn in Basel."

While a number of his team-mates could well be playing for their futures tonight - there are a dozen top-team players out of contract in the summer and any added revenue from the UEFA Cup run could help bolster whatever budget Robertson may be handed for the new season - such worries are not a concern for Neilson.

The full-back has another year left to go on his present agreement and he’s happy not to have the off-field distractions to contend with.

"I have another year or so to go here so I’m not worrying about sorting out a contract and can just concentrate on playing my football," he said.

"A few of them are out of contract in the summer but they haven’t let it affect their game and once they are out on the park it’s just another game."

Having experienced Murrayfield as a venue for football for the first time this season - Neilson played against both Braga and Schalke - the defender is relishing one of the club’s most important ever ties.

And he is keeping his fingers crossed there are even bigger games to come at Scottish rugby’s headquarters.

He said: "Murrayfield is a nice stadium, it’s a nice big pitch and although it won’t be full, the atmosphere should be quite good and we’re all looking forward to it.

"With a bit of luck this won’t be our last game of the season there. If we can qualify for the next stage and get at least one more team there it would be brilliant."

Taken from the Scotsman

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