HAVING been a member of a Rangers squad that once surrendered a 15-point lead in the league, Hearts goalkeeper Neil Alexander is taking nothing for granted now that his team has a similar advantage in the Championship.
The circumstances were different in the SPL back in late 2011 – when Rangers went 15 points clear it was only a day before Celtic played the first of their three games in hand – but Alexander nonetheless believes there is a valuable lesson from that season for Hearts as they continue to set the pace in the second flight.
“Until it’s mathematically impossible for anyone to catch us we’ll keep battling every week,” he said after his team’s 1-1 draw with Hibernian on Saturday. “If we drop points here or there it gives other teams a bit of momentum and a bit of confidence and we can’t let that happen.
“We can make this league quite comfortable and enjoyable until the end of the season, or we can make it uneasy and panicky for the fans as well as the players. So obviously we want to just keep getting points and hopefully win the league sooner rather than later. But we’re really not looking that far ahead.”
That refusal to look too far ahead has been important for the Tynecastle club, who are currently 13 points clear of second-placed Rangers and 19 ahead of Hibs. For months now Alexander and his colleagues have been invited to speculate in press conferences about how long their unbeaten run can last, including whether it can go on all season, but the goalkeeper insisted this was no time for musing about the coming months.
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“We’re not even thinking that,” he said. “We’re thinking game to game. Obviously if you win the league and look back it would be an unbelievable achievement, but we’re just looking one game at a time.
“We have a big game next week against Dumbarton: if we can win that we then move on to the next game. We go into every game looking to win, without getting carried away. We don’t want to get beat. We have a great team spirit, the boys are all in it together, we give 110 per cent. You gather a bit of momentum on the way and we’ve done that.
“We’ve played well and we’ve not played well, but we’re still winning games. That’s what wins leagues. I’ve been there before. We’re not getting carried away – we know there’s a long, long way to go – but if we remain unbeaten for the foreseeable future then it gives us a really good chance of winning the league.”
The draw in the derby extended Hearts’ run to 19 league games without defeat, and Alexander was relatively pleased with the point. “Obviously we’re disappointed we never won the game, but to remain unbeaten is a big positive. I thought we were disappointing in the first half and Hibs were the better team and deservedly took the lead. We came out and played a lot better in the second half.
“We had a lot of chances, but so did Hibs. It could have gone either way in the end. It was like a cup tie – derbies often are. Disappointed not to win, but we’ll take a draw.
“In recent weeks we’ve not been playing as well as we would have liked, but we’ve still picked up wins and clean sheets. That’s the mark of a title-winning team, so it’s important to keep that run going.
“I thought my back four were outstanding: there were three or four really good tackles to stop goals. That’s what it takes. We’re all in it together. Through the whole season we have been fantastic defensively. I’m happy to have just conceded the one.
“It was a tough game; a derby is always tough. Both teams put each other under pressure. I enjoyed it, it was a good game to play, good atmosphere, the fans were magnificent. I’m just glad we never got beat.”
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