Mar 17 2011 by Andrew McGilvray, Hamilton Advertiser
HAMILTON captain Alex Neil has warned his team-mates that relegation beckons if they don’t start winning games.
The ‘R’ word is probably banned in the New Douglas Park dressing room, but Neil says his team-mates need to face facts before it’s too late.
In an exclusive interview with the Advertiser, Accies captain Neil pulled no punches as he surveyed the hard work ahead – which starts on Saturday when St Johnstone visit New Douglas Park.
A fortnight after that Accies visit New St Mirren Park for a crunch clash and defeat in that game is frankly unthinkable.
Midfield ace Neil, who made his long-awaited comeback during last Thursday’s 2-1 defeat against Dundee United at Tannadice, said: “They’re must-win games and are huge for us, especially with the position we’re in.
“If we don’t start winning, it’s going to start getting harder to get out of the position we’re in and we desperately need points to give ourselves a chance.
“On Saturday, we’re at home to St Johnstone and we haven’t won a game at New Douglas Park all season, which isn’t good enough.
“I’ve always thought it’s winning your home games that keeps you in the league and we haven’t done that, which is a major reason why we’re at the bottom.”
Not only are Accies propping up the SPL table, they sit seven points behind second-bottom St Mirren, who also have a game in hand over the Lanarkshire side.
And Neil admitted such statistics have painted a gloomy picture for his side’s survival hopes.
“It’s a huge concern,” said the 29-year-old midfielder. “We’re bottom of the league, seven points adrift, and haven’t won a league game at home all season – there’s no point kidding ourselves on.
“There’s a hell of a lot of work that needs to be done and the position we’re in at the moment is the worst we’ve been in since we came up to the Premier League.
“If we don’t start winning our games – regardless of what St Mirren do – we’ll have no chance.
“We’ve got four games left, then it splits for the last five – and every game after that becomes a six-pointer for us.
“It’s going to be us and St Mirren fighting it out but all of our games after the split will be against teams round about us, so that does give us hope – but only if we give ourselves a chance going into it.
“If we can cut the deficit to three or four points then there is all to play for, but if we don’t cut the gap, it’s going to be a tall order.
“The next four fixtures are huge, and especially the game against St Mirren – we have to beat them and show that we’re willing and capable of fighting to the end.”
The only positive note for Neil is that, after an injury-hit season, he is finally back in action for Hamilton and his determination will be vital to the club’s battle for safety.
Neil has only made one previous appearance from the bench this season as Hamilton beat derby rivals Motherwell 1-0 at Fir Park on October 30, and admits the months between were difficult.
He said: “I didn’t feel too bad after the Dundee United game but it wasn’t in the plan that I was going to play for as long as I did. I was meant to come on for the last 10-15 minutes but Mark Carrington pulled up with an injury and the gaffer asked if I was ready.
“But it wasn’t too bad afterwards and that’s encouraging. It’s the only way to get match-sharp, although it’s going to be difficult between now and the end of the season for me to get up to speed and be at the level that I would expect myself to be at.
“It has been frustrating this season because when the team is winning, you look at it as another game down and hope you can climb the league, but when you haven’t managed to win, you wonder if you could have made a little bit of a difference. The lads have tried their best but for whatever reason it hasn’t been up to par. A lot of things have conspired against us, like suspensions and injuries, while we haven’t had the breaks – and you need a bit of luck to succeed.
“While I’ve always had faith that I would get back there have been times when I’ve been worried about whether or not I would play again this season.
“It does play on your mind a bit and it’s a long, hard day when you’re working in a gym by yourself and you do start to think about things.
“But I’ve improved ten-fold from where it was and, if I can build up my fitness, I should be fine.”