All the pressure is on Rangers ahead of tomorrow’s Championship crunch at Tynecastle, says East Fife boss Gary Naysmith.
And the former Hearts defender believes his old club will be firm favourites to clinch automatic promotion back to the top flight if they can avoid defeat against Ally McCoist’s men this weekend.
“I think you have to make Hearts the favourites,” he told Courier Sport.
“They are six points clear and playing at home so they definitely have to be the favourites.
“It is a massive game for Hearts, but I would say it’s a bigger game for Rangers.
“If Hearts beat them then the gap is extended to nine points.
“Even if Hearts lose, they will still be three points ahead.
“Rangers go into knowing if they lose they are nine behind Hearts and I just don’t see Hearts losing a nine point lead.
“You would imagine it will be those two teams fighting it out at the top of the league unless someone makes a late run.
“The games between the sides later on in the season could be even bigger as the points might be closer.
“But it’ll be a cracking occasion, a sell-out crowd and I think a draw would even suit Hearts because Rangers need to win.”
Naysmith knows both managers very well and reckons Hearts boss Robbie Nielsen has built on the platform laid down by Gary Locke at the tail end of last season.
“Robbie will get a lot of the credit, but last year’s regime deserves some as well,” he continued.
“Robbie has moved the players on, but the experience of playing in the Premier League under Lockie and Billy Brown has stood them in good stead.
“Undoubtedly Craig (Levein) will have advised him to sign guys like Buaben and Gomis, who he has worked with.
“I think Robbie has gone up and up since he started, and he will realise he is at a big club and there are jobs to be done.
“The first task is to get them back into the top flight and then it’s about getting them into Europe.
“For me, that’s the pressure of managing a club like Hearts – if you get them up, just surviving isn’t enough.
“He’s got to get them top six.
“There’s a constant pressure to deliver at a club like Hearts. He will know that himself.
“And I think that he will be disappointed if he doesn’t manage that given the position they are in now.
“The priority would have been to just get promoted but, after such a good start, he must now think: ‘Let’s go up as champions.’
“They have a great chance in front of 20,000 people to go nine points clear after more than a third of the season gone and it’ll be in their hands.
“It could inevitably come down to who handles the occasion best on the day.”
On the other side of the coin, Naysmith thinks Rangers boss Ally McCoist has been on a hiding to nothing at Ibrox in recent years although that comes with the territory.
“They had won six or seven games on the bounce, then they draw one game against Alloa and all of a sudden he is in last chance saloon,” he added.
“That is the nature of the beast for Ally but I think he’ll probably be immune to it by now.
“I think he has done quite a good job because at times he has been the glue that’s held that club together – I’m not sure anyone else could have done that.
“They are second in the league behind a very good Hearts side and, if they cut it to three points on Saturday, then it’s all to play for.
“But the thing about Rangers is while they’re a club in turmoil they are going to be front and back page news.
“Ally always stands behind them and very rarely criticises them in public. The players will respect him for that.
“When we (East Fife) played them recently, Ally came in before the game for 40 minutes for a cup of tea and a chat.
“That’s not normally the case in football. You get a quick drink afterwards and a few words but Ally makes time for you.
“I don’t know if he just likes me because of Scotland but he always makes time for me and he’s a guy I really respect.”