Robbie Neilson believes his high-flying Hearts team are a totally different proposition to the one that made heavy weather of winning the Championship last term.
The Tynecastle side are unbeaten in their opening eight games since returning to the cinch Premiership and have won five of them, with the latest victory coming against Motherwell on Saturday when Liam Boyce and Stephen Kingsley netted in a 2-0 triumph.
They are being lauded for the exciting brand of football they are playing, in contrast to last term when the Hearts manager and his players came under fire from their supporters for their performances and results in the second tier.
Asked to summarise the difference between last season’s team and the current one – which includes exciting recent recruits Cammy Devlin, Beni Baningime, Ben Woodburn and Barrie McKay – Neilson said: “We are better (now).
“I think we have 18 outfield players and two goalies that could play in any top-six team in Scotland.
“We have good strength in depth and a lot of energy in the team. We have 20 first-team players that want to be here and who want to do well for the club and last season when I came, we did not have that.”
Although Hearts are in the thick of it at the top of the table as the league breaks for international football, Neilson admits his team will have to prove they can handle any adversity they encounter if they are to mount a serious challenge.
He said: “We are up there at the moment but can we do it consistently? That is the key. We are sitting on a high just now but there is going to be a low.
“Eight games in we are unbeaten but we are going to lose a game. We don’t want it to be next week or the week after, we want to keep it going as long as possible.
“We are a good group but, as I say, we are only eight games in.”
Motherwell are on the coat-tails of the leading group and manager Graham Alexander is reasonably happy with the start his team have made to the season, even though he felt they were unfortunate not to take something at Tynecastle.
He said: “I still think there are instances where we could have got points when we didn’t, like against Hearts – and Hibs on the first day of the season.
“I know we have won points when we haven’t played particularly well.
“A couple of penalties against Hibs and Hearts have beat us so there is a lot to build on. There is a real positive vibe around the club and we are in a great position.
“We are in a position, after eight games, where no one expected us to be. We are always going to go out and throw punches if we can.”
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