“What a night they’re going to have!” : Robbie Neilson dedicates Hearts’ win over RFS Riga in the Conference League to the club’s traveling fans… as he hails ‘outstanding’ teenage centre-back Lewis Neilson
- Hearts took off in the Conference League with a 2-0 win over RFS Riga
- Tynecastle side are second in their group and next face Fiorentina
- Robbie Neilson praised club fans for spending their money on the away trip
- 19-year-old Lewis Neilson impressed in defense after replacing Craig Halkett early on
- The Hearts boss also hailed Josh Ginnelly, Cammy Devlin and Craig Gordon
Robbie Neilson has urged Hearts fans to enjoy the party after watching their heroes take second place in Group A of the Europa Conference League.
The Tynecastle side had won from seven games before Thursday night’s 2-0 victory over RFS Riga thanks to a penalty from Lawrence Shankland and a stoppage time goal from substitute Alan Forrest.
Hearts are now ahead of Fiorentina who lost 3-0 to Istanbul Basaksehir in Turkey after drawing at home to Riga in their opener.
Robbie Neilson urged Hearts fans to enjoy the party after watching their side win 2-0 against RFS
Neilson was unwilling to get ahead of a double against the Serie A giants, but he hopes this fine result in the Latvian capital will help Hearts learn that he belongs at this level.
“I’m really happy, first for the fans,” he said. What a night they are going to spend. They supported this little one in absolute custody. They invest their money every month.
“It’s expensive to come here at this time of year, but hopefully we’ve paid them back a bit. I think we can use this performance and this result as a springboard for the rest of the season.
“We’ve been through a tough time recently, but we’ve also had a number of injuries and it’s been difficult to get that consistency.
The Hearts boss praised fans for spending their money on the away trip to Latvia
Lawrence Shankland scored the first goal from the penalty spot just before half-time
“Coming here we knew we were playing against a very good team, which drew with Fiorentina last week.
“Let’s not get too excited just yet. Fiorentina are not a bad team. It will be another very tough game, but hopefully tonight will give the players confidence that they can play and win games at this level.
Hearts saw their injury problems resurface when defender Craig Halkett limped off early with a recurrence of hamstring issues that kept him out for a month.
But Neilson was delighted with the way 19-year-old Lewis Neilson coped with the threat of dangerous Riga importer Andrej Ilic.
Alan Forrest is hugged by Cameron Devlin after winning for Hearts late
The Scottish side are second in their Conference League group and next face Fiorentina
The Hearts boss also singled out Josh Ginnelly, Cammy Devlin and Craig Gordon for their praise following the fine result.
“It’s always a risk to put a player back after an injury, but hopefully Craig’s injury isn’t as bad as last time. He felt a small pinch in the same place and felt that it was better to detach.
“He won’t do on Sunday against Motherwell at Fir Park, but then we have a few weeks off and hopefully he’ll be back after that.”
“But Lewis Neilson was outstanding. For a 19-year-old to come and play European Conference League football against a very good team was great. Physically he did well and on the ball he was exceptional as well. In time, he will become a top player.
Goalkeeper Craig Gordon singled out for Neilson praise after keeping a clean sheet
“I also thought it was one of Josh Ginnelly’s best games for us and Cammy Devlin was exceptional. He got his first call-up to Australia earlier this week and it gave him a big boost.
“He picked the right pass at the right time for Alan Forrest’s goal, which was very important for us. And Craig Gordon is just one of the best keepers out there. He just produces save after save for us.
“If you’re a defensive unit and you have someone like Craig Gordon behind you, you know it’s going to take something very special to beat you.
“We could have potentially scored a few more goals tonight, but Riga too. But I’m just happy to win.