Craig Levein is ready to fire a shot across Rangers’ bows by pitching Hearts skipper Christophe Berra back into battle at Tynecastle on Sunday.
The former Scotland defender has been out since August after suffering a serious hamstring tear against Celtic.
The injury was expected to keep the 33-year-old out of action until well into the new year.
But Berra stepped up a remarkably swift recovery period with a 45-minute run-out during a friendly clash with East of Scotland League outfit Linlithgow Rose.
Now Levein says he is ready to gamble on the ex-Wolves and Ipswich stopper’s fitness by handing him his return against Steven Gerrard’s team.
And the Jambos boss believes it will have the twin benefits of boosting his squad’s confidence levels after five games without a win while also making the Light Blues second-guess their game plan for the Gorgie showdown.
“Christophe is fine,” insisted Levein.
“The weather was horrendous on Wednesday and the pitch was quite heavy but he got through the game at Linlithgow without any problems.
“Is he in my mind for Sunday? Yeah. He’s such an important player for us. We’ve missed him the time he has been out.
“There is the other side to consider in that I wouldn’t want to prolong his absence by playing him when he’s not ready.
“But he felt good after the game. He didn’t exert himself too much. We’ll see how he is on Saturday and obviously if he’s feeling good we’ll throw him in.”
With on-loan Burnley centre-back Jimmy Dunne struggling with an ankle knock picked up in training this week, Berra’s return is especially timely.
Levein added: “He’s very diligent in how he trains and he’s done the same with his rehab. The strength tests on his muscles are good so he’s maybe a couple of weeks ahead of schedule.
“We have some midweek matches coming up as well, so I need to look at that but firstly I’m thinking about Sunday.
“I think his presence on the team sheet – and I’m hoping to get Naisy (Steven Naismith) back in a couple of weeks too – should boost the confidence of our players. It should also fire a little warning shot across the bow of the opposition.”