Kevin Kyle expects Hearts to open up a nine-point advantage at the top of the Championship by beating title rivals Rangers in this Saturday’s eagerly-awaited showdown at Tynecastle.
The retired 33-year-old striker played for both clubs towards the end of his career and several of the players who will take to the field this weekend are his former team-mates.
Kyle believes that the unbeaten Jambos, who have collected 35 points from a possible 39 so far, hold all the aces and that all the pressure is on second-placed Rangers, who must try to reduce Hearts’ six-point advantage.
“It’s a big game for both teams but it’s a bigger game for Rangers because they’re the chasing team,” he told the Evening News. “They need the win more than Hearts do. The pressure is all on Rangers but I have to fancy Hearts. They have shown consistency since the season started. They’re the team full of confidence.
“Regardless of whether they play good or bad at the moment, they have that winning mentality where they just keep picking up three points. That’s what happens when you’re on form. They won at Ibrox earlier this season and I fancy them to repeat it on Saturday.”
Kyle feels that Hearts are a club in a good place after putting the trauma of administration behind them, while Rangers, who were liquidated just before Kyle’s arrival at Ibrox in 2012, continue to operate against a backdrop of major uncertainty.
“With all the off-field problems at Ibrox, there always seems to be a distraction for Rangers at the moment which makes it a bit more difficult for them,” he continued. “I know the players always try and get on with the job at hand but the uncertainty can’t be helping them. Hearts have come out of administration, got their books sorted and they’re going in the opposite direction to Rangers.”
Kyle feels home advantage could be crucial, with Hearts having won all six of their matches in Gorgie this season. “The fact it’s at Tynecastle in front of a full-house crowd will also help Hearts,” he continued. “It’s one of the best grounds to play in and I think the Rangers players would even agree with that. It’s a great place to play football. The stands are so steep that you feel the fans are right on top of you. If Hearts get off to a good start and the crowd get up for it, the Rangers players could get a bit intimidated. They’ve made Tynecastle a fortress this season and they’ll be hoping they can continue that.”
Kyle believes this weekend’s match is the most significant domestic game of the Scottish season so far. “It’s good for Scottish football to have a title race like this between two big clubs,” he said. “For me, this is definitely the biggest game in Scotland this season. No disrespect to the Premiership, but at the moment there’s nothing really to write about apart from off-the-field events. It’s not really been very exciting. Celtic will eventually walk away with the Premiership, but the Championship is a more competitive league. The contest between Hearts and Rangers could go to the wire. Apart from the Celtic-Rangers League Cup semi-final, Saturday’s game is as big as it gets in Scottish football these days. It’s all set up nicely and it will be a good game to watch.”
Although Kyle fancies Hearts to win this weekend, he does not necessarily feel that such an outcome would signal the end of the title race. “A nine-point gap is huge at any point in the season, especially coming up to Christmas,” he said. “It would be a great advantage for any team but the title race definitely won’t be over if Hearts win. Whatever happens this weekend, there’s still a long way to go – we’re not even halfway through the season. It’s never over until it’s mathematically over. Rangers have still got the quality to grind out results.
“There’s not much difference between the teams in terms of quality. It’s just consistency that’s separated them so far. Rangers have brought Kenny Miller and Kris Boyd back and they’ve not scored the goals that everybody thought they would get, but they’ve got the pedigree to start scoring at any time. Rangers have still got real depth in quality. David Templeton’s been sitting on the bench and Dean Shiels is struggling to even get a game.”
Kyle played with current Rangers trio Ian Black, Lee Wallace and David Templeton during his time at Hearts and believes that the former Jambos will all be fired up to make a big impression when they return to Tynecastle. “Those boys all made their name at Tynecastle,” noted Kyle. “With Lee Wallace, it was always a case of when rather than if he was going to move on because he’s got the attributes to go wherever he wants to go. Ian’s a diehard Hearts fan and David Templeton, who did really well at Hearts, hasn’t featured as much as he would have liked for Rangers. The three of them will all be looking forward to going back through there and they’ll feel they have a wee point to prove.”