Hearts 1-1 Ross County: Robbie Neilson laments lack of edge to game
Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson admits securing third place well before the end of the season has affected his team's recent performances.
The 1-1 draw with Ross County means they have won only one of their last seven games.
"The players gave 100%," Neilson told BBC Scotland.
"But when we're blooding young players, focusing a bit on next season and how we want to play, that takes the edge off the game a little bit."
The game was a largely lacklustre affair until the last 10 minutes.
Juanma gave Hearts a late lead only for David Goodwillie to equalise with the first goal of his loan spell from Aberdeen.
"It was one of these games towards the end of the season where we play a couple of young boys to try to give them an opportunity and we didn't get the result we wanted," said the Hearts head coach.
"We're in that strange situation where we've secured third place, we can't get second, we're not going to finish fourth.
"These games are always really difficult for players because, although you're really motivated to go and win, it takes the edge off it slightly for them.
"The run's not been great, but overall the season's been very, very good for us. If we'd been coming to the last game of the season and we'd secure third place with a win, we'd have been delighted.
"But we managed to do it before the split and these games now we're looking at developing young players to try to get them through, we're looking at things for next season because we have a very early start.
"So the formation's been changing, the personnel's been changing. It's always difficult to get a true reflection of the game."
Neilson's opposite number at Ross County, Jim McIntyre, is dealing with a similar issue, with his side having also won just one of their seven games since winning the League Cup.
While he, like Neilson, can be pleased with the season as a whole, he admitted to unhappiness at the recent run of results.
"It's not been good enough - I've got to say that," Mcintyre told BBC Scotland.
"One win in seven - I expect better from my team. Sometimes, when a team wins a trophy, there can be that sense of achievement, especially if you've not been used to winning trophies.
"In some of those games, we should have won. In others - like last week against St Johnstone - we got what we deserved.
"We're trying to get the players focused for every game. Sometimes the quality and performance let you down."
McIntyre was relatively satisfied by Saturday's efforts, with the point keeping alive County's desire to overtake Motherwell in fifth place.
"We were very conscious of the fact we still want to try to move up a place or two, so it was so important we got a result," he added.
"We'd the best chance in the first half to take the lead and, when you come to places like Tynecastle, you always think they're going to come back to bite you.
"Hearts have taken the lead fairly late on and we've managed to reply quickly, which was great and, with the effort the players put in, I think we deserved that."