HIBS fan Darren McGregor has praised Hearts for their super start to the season – but the Rangers defender wants to test their resolve by cutting their Championship lead to just one point before the Tynecastle side go into action at Falkirk this evening.
Rangers can cut the four-point gap by beating Alloa at Ibrox in advance of Robbie Neilson’s side kicking-off in the live TV clash at 5.30pm.
The two sides then meet at Tynecastle next Saturday in what promises to be a mouth-watering contest.
Hearts’ lead was nine points at one stage and McGregor has thrown down the gauntlet to the Gorgie men, who have yet to lose a league match this season.
He said: “For me, this Alloa game is just as big as Hearts next week. We need to take three points and apply pressure.
“Obviously, with Hearts kicking off after us, it gives us a chance to do that.
“People will tell you they don’t look at papers or their closest contenders but the first thing you do after a game is look to see how your opposition have done. Hearts will be no different.
“This will be the first time in the last couple of months where they will really feel the pressure if we get it to a point. It’s a totally different ball game when the pressure is on. We’ll see how they deal with it.
“We first need to take care of Alloa, then everything else will fall into place.”
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Having grown up in Leith as a Hibs supporter it is perhaps through gritted teeth that McGregor has offered praise to Robbie Neilson’s side – but he believes they are a stronger team now than they were last season.
He said: “Hearts have had a great season so far. I can’t say they’ve not done well – they’ve done amazingly well.
“The nucleus of players from last season has now bedded in. I played against them with St Mirren and I think they are a better team this year than last year with the experience they’ve brought in.
“The big defender Alim Ozturk can shoot as well, while Morgaro Gomis has settled it down in the middle of the park. I really do think they’ve done superbly – my question would be, when the pressure starts tightening and the points deficit gets down, can they handle it?
“It was up to nine at one point and now it’s four and could possibly be down to one come 5pm on Saturday. All we can do is win games and apply the pressure.”
Rangers have conceded just one goal in their last eight matches, winning them all, since a 3-1 defeat to Hibs at the end of September.
It is no coincidence that their improvement has coincided with McGregor and Lee McCulloch forming an impressive central defensive partnership and Kenny Miller returning to the side.
McGregor said: “The momentum we’ve gathered through the last eight games means confidence is high. Any player will tell you that’s massive. We’re training well, scoring and keeping clean sheets.
“I think it helps that we’ve had a settled back four. Lee and I have formed a good partnership – but it’s not just down to the two of us.
“Kenny especially is a great leader in the changing room and on the field as well. You can see a lot of younger guys looking up to him and he inspires them. He’s a great asset.
“He demands boys do everything the right way and I’ve no problem with that. It’s not as if he’s moaning for no reason – he’s doing it because he wants the best. If he’s giving me a hard time for not dropping and taking the ball off the keeper, I’ll put my hand up and say ‘OK Kenny, I’ll do it next time’.
“He’s got the experience; he’s been there and played at the highest level. You need to absorb that information. You’d be stupid not to.”
Midfielder Lewis Macleod will be in his normal position for Rangers today, having been given permission to leave the Scotland squad.
Rangers boss Ally McCoist said: “I had a chat with Gordon Strachan. He has been pleased with Lewis and his contribution, but, thankfully, he’s in agreement that we would like him to get a game at the weekend. We are delighted that he is back in the squad for the Alloa game because we want all our best players available. On current form Lewis is certainly one of them.
“We have an opportunity to cut the gap to one point. I like the way we are at the moment – I can see how enthusiastic the boys are in training and they are looking forward to games. If we stay focused it is an ideal opportunity to cut the gap before Hearts play at Falkirk.”
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