Hearts: Robbie Neilson and side have delivered, says Leanne Crichton

Leanne Crichton

It is possibly the most understated celebration of a title win Scottish football has seen.

Hearts have suffered more than most in the SPFL over the past 12 months. When they accepted their fate following the harsh conclusion of a curtailed season last year, relegation from the top flight was inflicted.

Following Robbie Neilson's appointment last summer, his remit was clear - recruit a side to win the title and restore the reputation of the club.

Writing this on the weekend that the Edinburgh club were crowned Championship winners, it's obvious to say the former has been secured. Yet, perhaps not in the manner some of the club's support would have liked. It's safe to say opinion has been divided at best.

On the face of it, their journey to Premiership promotion was a canter. Neilson's men won the league with three games to spare, only lost four, while scoring the most goals so far - 56 - and conceding the least, 24. Still, sticky patches, uninspiring performances and a shock Scottish Cup loss to Brora Rangers have added to a feeling of unrest.

However, I said at the start of the season this Hearts side would have what it takes to do what only they and three other teams have managed in the last two decades - bounce straight back up to the top flight.

The support expected them to rampantly succeed and brush aside any challenge in their quest for Championship success. Would it have been unrealistic that the team could have sailed through the division without losing a game?

That isn't for me to answer, but too many people underestimate the league and the quality of players that operate within it.

I have been fortunate enough to be across all the games this season and I have kept a close eye on this Hearts side from the opening match when they convincingly dismantled a strong Dundee side 6-2 at Tynecastle.

In the starting XI that evening were some of Nielson's new signings. Craig Gordon, Stephen Kingsley, Jordon Roberts and Josh Ginnelly, all off whom I felt could and should be a class act in this division.

The squad was littered with top players, bolstered by an abundance of international experience and quality that you would have expected to kick on and continue that relentless form throughout the season.

Admittedly, there were moments where I had to be convinced whether the personnel worked with the system, or the system worked with the personnel.

I fully expected to see energy, clean sheets, goals and nine-out-of-10 performances from each Hearts player every week. But instead, I witnessed them drop points in nine of their 24 matches, and almost stumble over the finish line when for months it felt like a formality.

However, I genuinely believe Neilson and his players can say this season has been a success.

Many players and managers will go through their careers and won't win as much as a raffle. Certainly, winning a league title doesn't come easy and is something that deserves respect.

Jamie Walker scores
Jamie Walker scored Hearts' sixth goal against Alloa on Friday night

The next challenge for the club is to ensure they can compete in the top flight. Only Neilson will know if he and this group of players are able to live up to the demands of the supporters.

He deserves the chance of summer recruitment and an opportunity to take the club forward. There will be moments to learn from and questions that only the hierarchy at the club can answer.

Regardless of what the fans who protested following the defeat to Brora and many others might think, we cannot allow the achievements of this season to escape us. The reality is Neilson and his players have delivered exactly what was asked of them.

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