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Robbie Neilson aims to fire Hearts up ahead of Hampden derby tie

Robbie Neilson File Photo
(Image credit: Tim Goode)

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson typically tries to calm his players down before a big game but will spend much of Saturday trying to fire them up ahead of their Hampden derby.

Neilson played in a 4-0 Scottish Cup semi-final win over Hibernian in front of 43,000 fans at Hampden in 2006 but Saturday’s encounter at the same stage will be very different with no supporters allowed.

The former Hearts defender remembers travelling through the traffic and being hit by the noise when he played in the Edinburgh derby semi-final but the lack of atmosphere on Saturday requires a different approach.

“The experience from that was keeping everyone calm, when you are travelling through and starting the warm-up, because you have such a massive crowd there,” he said.

“Whereas this season it’s about building everyone up to make sure we are ready for it.

“Through the course of the week it’s keeping everyone calm but once we get to Saturday morning, it’s about being ready for the game and being up for it and making sure we start the game well.

“It comes internally from the players but also the team working together and the staff working with them and getting them prepared for the game.

“When you watched the Old Firm game it probably wasn’t as intense as it has been previously, but that’s just the nature of not having 50,000 people there. We just have to make sure we are ahead of Hibs.”

Hibs are ahead of their Edinburgh rivals in terms of competitive games with their season starting more than two months earlier.

The Leith side have played 15 games to their rivals’ five with the Scottish Championship season only two weeks in.

But Neilson designed an 11-week pre-season with the cup tie in mind following talks with owner Ann Budge.

When asked whether they were ready for the game, Neilson said: “I’m more than confident. It was the reason we came back so early.

“I came in the middle of June and we knew this game was coming. We weren’t sure exactly when it would be but we knew it would be towards the start of the season, hence the reason I spoke to Ann about coming in a lot earlier.

“Yes, it was to get off to a good start in the league but – to be honest – it was really to make sure we were ready for this game.

“We took 10 or 11 pre-season games so with the three Betfred Cup and two league games we are up at 15 or 16 already. So the players are in a good place.

“We actually came off it a wee bit this week just to make sure we are ready. So I don’t have any qualms about it at all.”