Robbie Neilson believes Hearts’ top-of-the-table clash with Rangers is the biggest fixture in Scottish football this year.
The Tynecastle head coach says the magnitude of the game is greater than any other match, even in the Premiership.
Hearts can open a nine-point advantage over Rangers at the top of the Championship if they win Saturday’s lunchtime encounter at Tynecastle, which will be played in front of a sell-out crowd. Neilson stressed that the title will not be settled this weekend, but he is in no doubt about the size of the occasion.
“It’s a huge game in Scottish football. It’s probably the biggest one so far this year, even taking the Premiership into account,” he told the Evening News. “It’s two teams at the top of the league fighting for the title, so it’s going to be a great atmosphere in front of a full house. We want to pass the ball, do things quickly and use our pace and ability.
“It would be a great cushion for us to get three points and also a great boost for the boys’ confidence. We’re also aware we’ve got Celtic in the Scottish Cup the following week, then it’s back to the league with Queen of the South at home. They gave us a real fright when we played them down there in the first 20 minutes.
“No matter how far we are ahead, whether it’s three points or whether it’s nine points, we still need to go out the next week and do it again. Every game is a test for us. There is still a very long way to go and a lot of points to pick up between now and the end of the season.
“No matter the outcome of Saturday’s game, it’s not going to have a huge bearing in the end. It would be great for us if we can get the three points but if we do win, we still have a long way to go.”
Hearts captain Danny Wilson remains a huge injury doubt for the game as he has been unable to train fully this week. The centre-back has a hamstring problem which has sidelined him since last month’s Edinburgh derby against Hibs.
Striker Osman Sow should be fit enough for at least a place on the substitutes’ bench after missing the last two matches with a thigh complaint. Midfielder Prince Buaben has a slight niggle but is expected to be available.
“I’m not going to rush anyone,” said Neilson.
“We’ll see how they do today and Friday and take it from there. Wilson is a wee bit behind but we’ll see how he does over the next couple of days. Out of them all, he’s the one that’s probably furthest away.”
Jordan McGhee and Jack Hamilton were due to rejoin training today after returning from Scotland Under-21 duty. Callum Paterson is available after a two-match suspension.