Naismith: Hearts must focus on final opportunity as Rangers hit form dip

The Hearts head coach is aiming to cause an upset at Hampden.

Hearts head coach Steven Naismith believes there is a vulnerability around Scottish Cup semi-final opponents Rangers – but he wants the focus to be on his own side’s strong form.

The Tynecastle side travel to Hampden for Sunday’s match having all but secured third-place in the Premiership, and on a run that has seen them take 39 points from their last 17 games.

They go up against a Rangers side that has suddenly seen their title hopes suffer a major blow after a 3-2 defeat to Ross County and a 0-0 draw in Dundee over the past week.

Naismith, who played at Ibrox between 2007 and 2012, accepts there is a vulnerability about Philippe Clement’s side but thinks the one-off nature of the cup semi-final means that form isn’t as important.

“Their form isn’t where they probably expected it or wanted it to be at this crucial time of the season but it’s a cup game, so it’s different,” the Hearts boss said.

“They’re a direct team, they play the ball forward, try to pick up the second balls and that’s got them a lot of success since the new manager came in.

“At this crucial point, it’s not going to plan for them. I think (Rangers’ dip in form) is unexpected but I’m not sure it’s a surprise. From my experiences, it’s a tough club and a tough environment.

“For any player when you win trophies, it feels great but doing it is the hard part.

“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.”

The sides have already met in a cup semi-final this season, when Rangers were 3-1 winners on their way to winning the Viaplay Cup. At that point, Hearts were the team struggling for results in the league and the manager believes his side have been transformed since that day at the national stadium.

“We are a much different team now than we were then,” Naismith said.

“We’ve learned from our mistakes in games which has put ourselves in a position where our form’s been good.

“From November time on, our record has been really good. We’ve continued to win games. Even when we’ve had a result or a performance that we were not happy with, we’ve reacted well.

“We’ve come from behind in games, we’ve won games comfortably, we’ve competed with the top teams in the league so we’re a more assured team, I would say.

“We’re more comfortable and have a better understanding of what we want to do. We’re in a good place and the squad’s probably stronger now than it was then in terms of injuries.

“Since probably the last month of last year, in terms of league points and coming through in the cup, we’ve matched the teams at the top of the table. The next steps of that is winning trophies, and that’s all I’m thinking about.”

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