Hearts need a strong start to the season

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson holds the matchball

When the Premiership gets underway in two weeks time, Robbie Neilson can expect to be involved in his toughest season yet as Hearts manager.

As Hearts were unexpectedly dumped out of the Europa League on Thursday night, all the club's focus will be on the new league campaign.

The players will have to carry the embarrassment of the defeat to Malta's Birkirkara, and the boos at the final whistle surely weren't ideal as the club, relegated two seasons ago, strives to consolidate its position in Scotland's top tier.

It took Neilson only 16 months to get Hearts back into the top-flight and the club finished a respectable 3rd in the Scottish Premiership last term, so it's somewhat bizarre to see some Hearts supporters already questioning his right to lead the club into the new season. With the Old Firm back in the big time and Aberdeen to chase once again, Hearts should surely be united considering the challenges ahead.

The first three fixtures of the season are crucial to get all the fans back on board. And they are tough. First up comes champions Celtic at home, then a tricky trip to Pittodrie, followed by Inverness Caledonian Thistle back in Edinburgh — a side the Jambos have beaten only twice in the league over five years.

Four points from these games, and the pressure on everyone at Hearts will ease up. Anything less than 3, and it's likely to become stressful.

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