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Craig Gordon backs ‘driven’ Robbie Neilson to keep improving Hearts

Craig Gordon is eyeing a Scottish Cup final place (Jeff Holmes/PA)
Craig Gordon is eyeing a Scottish Cup final place (Jeff Holmes/PA)

Craig Gordon has backed “driven” manager Robbie Neilson to keep pushing Hearts on to new heights.

The Jambos had just been relegated to the Championship in 2020 when Neilson returned for a second stint as boss. He led the Tynecastle side to promotion at the first attempt last season and has now secured third place in the cinch Premiership this term.

Hearts have the chance to cap an impressive second campaign under former MK Dons and Dundee United manager Neilson by defeating city rivals Hibernian in this weekend’s Scottish Cup semi-final and securing European group-stage football as a result.

Goalkeeper Gordon, 39, believes that would be vindication for the impressive work his boss – whom he played alongside – has put in to revive the club.

“Robbie’s got a good bit of experience now from a number of different clubs and I suppose you learn along the way as a manager,” he said. “He’s had the ups and downs and been able to come back from them, and that can only make you better.

“He’s been fantastic for us, he’s really driven the club forward again. I can’t praise him highly enough for what he’s done here so far. Let’s hope we can win this one (on Saturday).

“He deserves that because he’s put this club back where it belongs. We now have to work even harder to make sure we stay there, we kick on and we get even better. I’m sure we will because Robbie’s so driven and that’s what he wants for the club.”

Confirmation last weekend that Hearts have secured third place means Neilson has repeated the feats of his first spell in charge of the club when he won the Championship title in 2014-15 and then finished third in the top flight the following season.

Gordon is hoping the similarities with his first reign end there because he left Hearts a few months into his third campaign after being headhunted by MK Dons.

“I hope he stays next year as well, that didn’t happen the last time,” smiled the goalkeeper, when discussing Neilson’s achievements. “It’s been a very good start (to his second spell). You couldn’t have asked for a great deal more.

“Things are improving all around here, whether it be the training ground or the stadium or people coming behind the scenes.

“There is so much to look forward to here but we’ve still got a way to go. We really want to build for the future and make it sustainable and make sure we are where we are year in, year out. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Gordon – who played in the UEFA Cup group stage with Hearts in his first spell in 2004 – would love to see his team get the win over Hibs this weekend that will guarantee at least a Europa League play-off, with a parachute into the Conference League group stage.

“It certainly wouldn’t hurt getting European group stage football,” he said. “It would be extra revenue coming into the club with the potential to sign players who know they’ll have that platform to enhance their career. That’s surely something that would help any club.

“It’s a big incentive for everybody here. Some players here haven’t played in Europe before so it would be a big step up in their careers and their development as players to get a taste of that.”