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Hearts have taken the “extremely difficult decision” to sack manager Robbie Neilson following a fifth consecutive defeat.

The 42-year-old came under fierce criticism from supporters after Saturday’s 2-0 home defeat by St Mirren saw Hearts slip down to fourth place in the cinch Premiership behind Aberdeen.

The fan-owned club have taken the decision to change manager ahead of next Saturday’s Edinburgh derby at Easter Road as they try to get back on track in the race for third place and the lucrative access to European group-stage football that comes with it.

A club statement read: “Heart of Midlothian Football Club can confirm that it has parted company with manager Robbie Neilson.

“Robbie has been a key part of the club’s ascent back to the upper echelons of Scottish football, delivering another Championship title, a third-place finish, two Scottish Cup finals and European group-stage football in the process.

“This was an extremely difficult decision to reach, and we would like to thank Robbie for all of his efforts.

“A full statement from the board of directors will be released in due course.”

Robbie Neilson
Robbie Neilson during the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park (PA))

Neilson took charge of Hearts for the second time in the summer of 2020 after leading Dundee United to the Championship title.

He repeated the feat with Hearts and appeared to win over some sceptical fans who called for his head in the wake of a Scottish Cup shock against Brora Rangers in March 2021.

A third-placed finish last season, coupled with a Scottish Cup final defeat by Rangers, saw Hearts secure an extended run in Europe in the Conference League group stage.

They looked odds-on to repeat that league result when they thrashed Aberdeen 5-0 in January to move seven points clear in third and nine ahead of the Dons.

But their season began to unravel with defeats against Motherwell, Celtic, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock and St Mirren in their last six league games, as well as a 3-0 home defeat in the Scottish Cup against the Hoops.

Neilson expressed belief he could turn their form around immediately after Saturday’s defeat against the Buddies.

“I’ve done it before and it’s part of being a manager,” he said. “You’re not going to win every single game and we’re going through this period which has been difficult, but we have to continue to believe in what we’re doing and the processes we’re having.

“We have to build the players’ confidence and then get through it.”

There was no immediate confirmation of the future of Neilson’s assistants, Gordon Forrest and Lee McCulloch, who he brought with him from Tannadice.

Steven Naismith has been in charge of the club’s B team in the Lowland League this season and the former Scotland striker could potentially be involved with the first team on an interim basis for the final seven matches of the season.