Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes believes his under-fire Hearts counterpart Robbie Neilson has enough credit in the bank to be spared the vicious backlash that has come his way since Saturday’s match between the two sides at Rugby Park.
The Jambos slumped to a fourth defeat in a row as they lost 2-1 to 10-man Killie, allowing Aberdeen to close to within a point in the race for third place in the cinch Premiership.
The Hearts support vented their fury at Rugby Park and there have been widespread calls on social media for the manager to be removed, while on Sunday afternoon pictures emerged of spray paint on the Hearts badge on the Foundation of Hearts Plaza outside Tynecastle reading “f*** off Neilson”.
McInnes feels the Jambos boss, who has led the club to the Championship title and third place in the Premiership plus two Scottish Cup finals since returning in 2020 for his second spell in charge, is being harshly treated.
“Nothing really surprises me,” said the Killie boss when asked about the Hearts support’s reaction to their defeat against his team. “Robbie’s in charge of a good team there and they’re sitting third in the league.
“I think on the evidence of the last couple of seasons, he’s deserving of better than that. Pressure comes to all of us and Robbie will be well aware of that, but at the start of the season, for Hearts to be sitting where they are now, I’m sure everyone would have taken that.”
McInnes found himself in a similar predicament to Neilson towards the end of his own eight-year reign at previous club Aberdeen when sections of the Dons support were no longer satisfied by regular qualification for Europe and felt there was another level that could be reached with a change of management.
“A lot of the time when you’ve been at a club for a period of time, you’re judged by the standards you set yourself rather than when you initially go in and you’re judged against the standards of the previous manager,” said McInnes.
“If you do well, you get judged against your own (previous) performances, and sometimes people are always looking for something different. Robbie’s done a very good job there and I’m sure he’ll continue to do that.”
McInnes, meanwhile, will take his Killie team to Largs to train on grass this week in an effort to try and spark an upturn in their dire away form ahead of Saturday’s trip to Aberdeen.
The Ayrshire side have taken just two points from their 15 cinch Premiership matches away from their plastic Rugby Park pitch.
“We are training Tuesday and Wednesday on grass just to get that adaptation,” added McInnes. “We’ve trained on grass previously, but unfortunately we have to go out of Kilmarnock to find a decent grass pitch, so we’ll go down to Largs this week. Hopefully it will help us.
“We’ve tried it before and it’s not worked and we beat Hearts at Tynecastle (in the League Cup) without training on grass so it kind of throws that theory on its head.
“But it’s been too often now that we feel the games the players play away from home is the first time they’ve played on grass for weeks, so we’ll try it this week and if we manage to get a positive result, we’ll be doing it more often.”