London Hearts Supporters Club

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<-Page <-Team Wed 02 Mar 2005 Hearts 1 Rangers 2 Team-> Page->
<-Srce <-Type Evening Times ------ Report Type-> Srce->
John Robertson <-auth None auth-> Hugh Dallas
Mikoliunas Saulius [I Novo 49] ;[F Ricksen pen 94] Dado Prso
2 of 048 Mark Burchill 87 L SPL H

RANGERS are approaching the witching hour of their SPL championship aspirations.

Tonight's journey from west to east to face Hearts at Tynecastle might just determine whether they have the capacity to travel the entire distance and regain the prize from Celtic.

With 11 games left in the chase for the major domestic prize, Alex McLeish and his players find themselves in pole position, a placing they could not have envisaged as recently as last autumn when their Old Firm rivals had managed to strike the front and comfortably so at that.

However, there is now a sense of solidity about Rangers that was absent earlier in the season. This pleases the boss, but not to the extent that he considers the six-point lead, in tandem with a goals difference superiority of 14, can be translated as anything approaching a guarantee of delivery.

Celtic have two games in hand over their ancient rivals and, in the context of the shortfall in meaningful SPL opposition, the length of their lead is probably false and, ultimately, no more than an issue to be settled one way or the other once the league splits next month and a date is set for their sixth and final collision of the season at Ibrox.

McLeish, then, is fully aware of the absolute requirement to assemble a sequence of wins between tonight and what is shaping as a seminal confrontation. He is aware, also, the fixtures won't come any tougher than the visit to Tynecastle, which carries a very real threat of discomfort.

"No question, it is a difficult venue," he says. "But, then again, it is the kind of place you must go to and achieve results if you are to fulfil any championship aspirations. There are a lot of good players at Hearts and doubtless they will be up for this one.

"Just as an example, I think Paul Hartley has enjoyed an outstanding season so far and Steven Pressley is never fazed by important games. He has a strong personality."

McLeish, though, prefers to focus on his own lot and they have delivered recently, especially when they exited from Parkhead the other week with a 2-0 win which allowed them to claim a three-point lead, subsequently improved upon.

"The old cliche is you take one game at a time and, in terms of the championship, we have 11 left to play. If we win them all, we'll be champions, but it isn't quite as straightforward as that," he says.

"Recently, we have put together a sequence of results that have got us into the position we now hold and that is a momentum we will be seeking to maintain."

Most judges regard Rangers' current goals superiority to be the equivalent of a further one-point advantage.

But such positives can be negated over the run-in to a league prize and, doubtless, Celtic will reckon they can begin to chip away at this tonight, when they face Dundee at Parkhead.

So, McLeish and his players will continue to stay focused, placing goals difference onto the back burner and determining the pursuit of points to be the priority.

The cohesion that has characterised their performances of late suggests they are well equipped to travel to the more difficult places, such as Tynecastle, and emerge unscathed.

Barry Ferguson's return from Blackburn has welded composure to the midfield area and the strikers, Dado Prso and Nacho Novo, are in a rich vein of form. "It's an old football adage that you live or die by your strikers and, yes, Dado and Nacho are doing very well right now," he says.

"We also have Steven Thompson in good form and we should have Shota Arveladze back shortly, which would allow me to rotate the strikers when necessary.

"Currently, Prso and Novo are a really good package. Nacho has shown a real mental toughness to get over a slow start to the season. He annoys defenders, and his work-rate is excellent - an aspect to the team's play that had been lacking in the past.

"So, all in all, the past month has been productive and I can sense real determination throughout the squad of players.

"In saying that, this is not a time to shout from the rooftops about our chances because a lot of football has still to be played and there are difficult games ahead."

Yet, you suspect success at Tynecastle would compound a growing confidence within the club's support. If this is to be Rangers' year, the grasp of the points tonight might, in retrospect, come to be regarded as crucial.

Taken from Evening Times

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