Exclusive: Stephen Kingsley addresses Hearts' belief against Rangers and the issues needing solved

The Tynecastle defender offered a candid analysis ahead of Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final

Four defeats from four fixtures against Rangers this season render Hearts underdogs entering Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final. Despite the Ibrox club winning just two of their last eight games in all competitions, they are favourites to progress at Hampden Park. If the situation irritates Hearts defender Stephen Kingsley, he is also pragmatic enough to understand it.

This will be his fourth cup semi with the Edinburgh club. He has also played in two finals, losing one to Celtic on penalties and one to Rangers in extra-time. The desire to go one step further and bring silverware back to Tynecastle is burning within him, but he acknowledges one pivotal ingredient Hearts need to succeed this weekend: Unwavering belief.

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Rangers have lost domestically to Motherwell and Ross County in recent weeks, plus their midweek goalless draw at Dundee. Hearts have competed at times against them this season without garnering any kind of meaningful result. They lost 2-1 to two stoppage-time goals in the league at Ibrox last October before going down 3-1 in the League Cup semi-final a week later. Rangers won 1-0 at Tynecastle in November and then enjoyed a 5-0 home romp against the Capital side in February.

Kingsley knows odds are stacked against Hearts, who have not beaten Rangers in any of their last 13 meetings since a 1-0 victory at Tynecastle in February 2020. Ironically, that was also a Scottish Cup tie. The erratic form of Sunday’s opponents does not necessarily make them any more vulnerable. Kingsley’s football brain and experience tells him they may actually be more dangerous as the proverbial wounded animal.

“Always, aye. You analyse the games, see where they are not quite clicking and look to expose that. They are a massive team and they are going to look to rebound from this,” he cautioned, speaking exclusively to the Edinburgh News. “We are in a cup competition so it’s going to be tough. We have looked at their games and we go in with full belief that we can hurt them as Ross County and Dundee have.

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“We looked at the League Cup semi-final and the other games against Rangers - the good parts and the bad. We showed we can do very well against them but we haven’t done it enough. That’s the message we need to show to give a good account of ourselves. Having the belief to actually do it on the day, I think that’s the main thing. You can talk about it as much as you want, but really turning up on the day and putting on a performance to be proud of - I don’t think we have done that quite enough. We have shown it in glimpses but we really need a 90-minute performance if we are going to get something from the game.”

Which begs the question: Has belief been lacking when Rangers are the opponents? “I think it could be a bit of belief. It could be a few things,” explained Kingsley. “The game at Ibrox finished 5-0 and that was a performance we were disappointed in. The goals we conceded were poor, even though Rangers were very good that day. We have played them enough times this season to know we need to be switched on defensively and then have the belief to take the game to them as well. We have to show the fans we have that confidence. We have had a good season so far. Now we want to kick on and progress to do something special.

“You always think about the next game but, at the back of your mind, you know you’ve got a big game coming up. It adds to the build-up. You want to come into these games in good form and playing well. We have had a couple of poor starts and we want to be at it right from the off. We know a team like Rangers, even though they are going through a dry spell, are still dangerous. You can’t give them any chances.”

The direct and bolshy approach taken by Ross County in particular exposed weaknesses in Rangers’ defence. Hearts can learn from that slightly more bullish attitude. “Both Ross County and Dundee were very good. It was really impressive how they set up their stalls. They frustrated Rangers,” said Kingsley. “Obviously Rangers would tell you they were poor at times and I’m sure they will try to rectify some of these mistakes they have been making for Sunday’s game. We need to take confidence that, if we are on it, we have the ability to get a result.”

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With each passing season, Kingsley’s ache to lift major silverware increases. It is the one thing missing from an otherwise successful career in the Scottish and English leagues which also includes international caps. A trophy would top it all off.

“I feel like I say that every year. I’m like a broken record,” he smirked. “I’ve been in two cup finals in four years here, and I’ve been in a semi-final every year. These are special experiences at this stage of the competition but I’m dying to take that next step, as are the rest of the squad. This is a great opportunity. I feel very proud that we’ve been getting to this stage of cup competitions but, at the end of the day, you want to win silverware. That’s the challenge and ambition for everyone in the squad. We are all driven to win that trophy which I’m sure would be a highlight of everyone’s career.

“It’s frustration because you feel we have the squad to do it. We were very close a couple of times. We took Rangers to extra-time and took Celtic to penalties. We know we can do it. We know we have the experience and quality to do it. It’s just about delivering it on the day. I wouldn’t say it turns to anger [when it doesn’t happen]. It should be frustration, channelled in the right way to make sure you perform on the day. I’ve been like that my whole career. I hate losing. I hate not achieving what I’ve set out to achieve.”

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