Austin MacPhee explains how Hearts need to get the balance right against Rangers

Hearts interim manager Austin MacPhee. Picture: Craig Foy / SNS
Hearts interim manager Austin MacPhee. Picture: Craig Foy / SNS
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Rangers’ result against Feyenoord on Thursday night highlighted the magnitude of the task facing Hearts when they travel to Ibrox tomorrow.

Another two goals for 
free-scoring Alfredo Morelos simply underlined it.

A capital side who have conceded eight goals during interim manager Austin MacPhee’s three-game stint at the helm, they face a group of players buoyed by their form on European and domestic duty.

A team with daunting attacking options, Steven Gerrard’s men are again a force to be reckoned with on both fronts, with the Colombian front man a major reason they are again challenging rivals Celtic and are one game away from graduating from the Europa League group stage.

“They also beat Porto and they’re worth £250 million,” said MacPhee, who lost out to the Glasgow side in the Betfred Cup semi-final and admits he does not know how much longer he will be asked to take the team.

“The other thing is that Celtic
and Rangers are now driving each other and every point is a prisoner in the title race. Maybe before, when Rangers were coming back through the leagues, when we were competing with Celtic they could occasionally have their eye off the ball. Now they’re pushing each other and, by default, it can become more difficult to take points off them.

“We need to be at our 
absolute best, take the chances that we have and manage the game well. We realise, even from watching them from Thursday night the threat that they have.

“But we have to get the balance right between players not being spooked by being given too much information and over-thinking things and being free enough to be aggressive, to be tight but to also play off instinct in the attacking third of the pitch. But, in the Premiership we play against teams so much that we’ve already played Rangers two times in the last five weeks. They’re an opponent we know well and it’s always a difficult task going to Ibrox.”

After a kamikaze start to 
their match against Kilmarnock last weekend, losing three goals in a crazy seven-minute spell, there is confidence that the return of Craig Halkett could help steady things at the back.

A hugely influential player at the start of the season, the 24-year-old was being linked with a Scotland call-up before a knee injury kept him out of action for around eight weeks. But, having warmed a spot on the bench last weekend, he is set to start tomorrow against his former club.

“Craig had a huge influence on the team at the start of the season and he’s a very good player to have back,” said MacPhee. “Although we scored five goals against St Mirren we were disappointed in the goals we lost and, in the next game, we obviously lost three really bad goals in minutes so it’s an area of the pitch we need to tighten up on, particularly when you go to Ibrox, given the form they’re in.”

But Halkett is raring to go and keen to make up for lost time.

“Putting the Scotland thing aside, it’s more just about getting back fit and doing a job for Hearts.

“Being on the sidelines, it’s been tough to watch the results. We haven’t picked up as many points as we should have.”

Adding to the tally will be a big ask. Both Halkett and MacPhee believe it is possible, but they will need everyone at Hearts to be at their best, while the likes of Morelos allows his levels to dip.

“It’s going to be hard,” admitted the Hearts defender. “He is flying just now, as is the whole Rangers team. Everyone in our dressing room will need to be at the top of their game and hope some in the opposition dressing room have an off day. We are all up for it.”