Steven Naismith makes Rangers 'rode their luck' claim as Hearts boss bullish over Scottish Cup KO

Steven Naismith reckons Rangers and Philippe Clement were lucky to dodge a couple of heavy blows earlier in the campaign.

But with the Ibrox side reeling in their title fight the Hearts boss is convinced his players are now ready to deliver his old club a knockout in Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi final. Hearts have floored every other top flight side in the last nine months including home and away wins over Celtic. However, four cracks at Rangers have resulted in four defeats including painful thrashings at Ibrox and the League Cup semi final at Hampden.

That stat is likely to still gnaw at Tynecastle chief executive Andrew McKinlay who almost exactly a year ago lamented his club’s failure to “lay a glove on Rangers”. Naismith can smell blood though. He reckons Philippe Clement’s side are swaying on the back of defeat to Ross County and Wednesday’s draw in Dundee. Even then he reckons they hit Hearts with a lucky blow when goals in the 90th and 93rd minutes earned Clement a 2-1 win at Ibrox in his second game in charge.

And, asked if Rangers were looking vulnerable after recent results, Naismith said: “We look at everything from players that are injured for the opposition, the way they play, their form. Two wins in eight tells you that they are not playing like they did before.

"But I would say that, in the time since the manager has come in, they've rode their luck a couple of times. The first game against us at Ibrox, they are lucky to get a point, never mind three. I think now, they are on the opposite of that and it's about how they are going to react to it.

"At this crucial point, it's not going to plan for them. I think it is unexpected but I'm not sure it's a surprise. There’s some players that have been there over the years and failed to win trophies. From my experiences, it's a tough club and a tough environment.

"For us, that's what we want to focus on. We go there knowing we're a good team, we've made good strides this season and we've got a right opportunity to go and pick up this trophy. We're in a good position and our last two results have been good so we're going into it full of confidence."

Hearts’ momentum certainly should fill them with belief. Since November 1 they are just three points behind Rangers and one off leaders Celtic on league form.

Naismith is convinced his players have come a long way since the one-sided 3-1 defeat in their last semi final meeting with Clement’s side.. He said: “The last semi-final, yeah, we are more comfortable with where we are.

Hearts' Lawrence Shankland (C) and Rangers' Connor Goldson and James Tavernier in action
Steven Naismith

“We’ve probably won games in different ways – comfortable wins, coming back from back defeats, being tight and having to score late. So we are definitely a better team now, We’ve got a better understanding, and we’ve got confidence.

“From the last semi-final to now, our form is matching the Old Firm. There’s three or four points between the three of us since the last semi-final.

“That tells you we have progressed and we are challenging with them in terms of a consistent basis. To stay at that level, the next step is playing in finals.”

Hearts will again be without Calem Nieuwenhof along with long-term crocks Liam Boyce, Craig Halkett and Peter Haring. Craig Gordon will start in goal. And Naismith said: “The small margins, moments within the game will decide the flow.

“If we start fast and we are putting pressure on, it puts a bit more nervousness on them to defend. If you get the lead and you are winning with 10 minutes to go, the crowd are on them, as you've seen in the last two games.

“But if we're down, we're going to have the same effect from our fans. It's having the calmness in those small moments to get the upper hand in the game, which will dictate how it goes.

“We've seen the way Rangers play. They are a very direct team, they look to pick up second balls off that direct play or get in behind you. And I think in the last two games, Ross County and Dundee have been good at stopping that.”