Darren Johnstone

Hearts interim manager Austin MacPhee believes extracting points from the Old Firm has become more difficult because there is little margin for error in a neck-and-neck race for the Ladbrokes Premiership title.

Rangers, their opponents at Ibrox tomorrow, currently trail Celtic on goal difference in a campaign that has seen the Glasgow heavyweights each drop points in only two league games so far this term.

A nine-point gap already exists between the leading pair and third place Aberdeen, and that’s with the Dons having played one more game.

Hearts did manage to hold Rangers to a 1-1 draw at Tynecastle in October, although the chasm in quality between the sides was demonstrated in a 3-0 success for Steven Gerrard’s side in the recent Betfred Cup semi-final.

Rangers head into the game buoyed by Thursday’s 2-2 Europa League draw at Feyenoord and MacPhee acknowledges that it will take a huge effort from his team if they are to leave Govan with any reward.

“Rangers also beat Porto [in the Europa League] and they’re worth £250m,” said MacPhee. “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 they 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.”

Hearts, however, have form when it comes to defying the odds. After all, they were the team that ended Celtic’s incredible 69-game unbeaten run in December 2017.

MacPhee, who takes charge of his fourth straight game since Craig Levein’s dismissal, has reminded the players of that feat.

“I spoke to the players on Friday morning about games where that has happened,” he said. “The most notable one for Hearts in recent times has probably been the 4-0 game against Celtic.”