Steven Naismith admits to 'less pressure' ahead of Rangers semi-final clash

Steven Naismith praises his team's committed attitude ahead of Rangers semi-final cup matchs
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It’s now less than 48 hours until Hearts face Rangers at Hampden Park in the hope of reaching December’s Viaplay Cup final. 

The Jambos surrendered a one goal lead to lose 2-1 at Ibrox last weekend but their most recent 1-0 win over Livingston will most definitely have instilled a much needed confidence boost ahead of what is sure to be a fiery clash on Sunday. 

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The Gers thumped Dundee FC 5-0 on Wednesday, but the game was hugely overshadowed by extraordinary displays of pyrotechnics, causing the players to be escorted from the pitch. 

With arguably an even bigger occasion just around the corner, one has to wonder how the Hearts’ camp are feeling about the potential of such a danger. 

Speaking ahead of the final four fixture, Naismith said of what could be: “I think for me, one of the biggest things for games is the atmosphere. I’ve managed to play in them - it’s unbelievable. Hampden especially, can be pretty poor when it’s half full but see when it’s full it’s brilliant atmosphere, it’s great games. So you want that.

“In terms of pyrotechnics and stuff, until it’s safe, the safety has to override all of that and it needs to be safe, but you still want an unbelievable atmosphere. So however we get that, that’s what needs to be there.”

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Naismith was also under no illusion as to how key Wednesday’s win at Tynecastle was for the Jambos: “It was a big win for us. With results not being exactly where you want to be all the time, it was important.

“The performance showed that everybody believes in a lot of what we’ve been doing - a lot of what we’ve been doing in the background clicked. It was about mindset and mentality and having patience and trust.

“The hardest thing for players, especially in a game you dominate, is dealing with the feeling of not working hard enough. Players then start running more but end up running into the wrong spaces.

“Instead it’s about being disciplined and the lads did that really well, hence why we had so many chances and created some good chances. The last two performances will definitely give us confidence going into Sunday.

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Hearts were forced into two very different tactical performances during the week. While they were able to offer a much more attacking approach against eleventh-placed Livingston, it was all about the defence when coming up against Philippe Clement’s squad but Naismith believes this has been invaluable practice ahead of Hampden. 

“Where we probably sit within the rankings of the league means we’re going to come up against both parts of that. It’s good to have an understanding of that.

“Come Sunday, with it being a semi-final and the small margins that are contained in that, we’re going to need to do both parts. We’ll need to be good on the ball but also have a good structure. We’ll also need to defend and be disciplined.”

Hampden is likely to see a sell-out crowd on Sunday but the Jambos gaffer is hopeful his squad can maintain their composure and treat it like any other game: “On the day, the dynamics are different. You’ve got a lot more fans than you normally do for an away day. The prize at the end of it is win or lose.

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“But that dynamic is more for the players to deal with. Can we keep a clear head during every part of the game, whether we’re 1-0 up and holding on at the end or whether we have to go win the game?

“But I’m confident that the players will take on what we want them to do. They’ve shown they can do that at certain moments throughout the season. It’s just about doing that on this big occasion."

The Gorgie boss was also asked about whether this weekend marks the perfect opportunity to win over the fans who have made their feelings known to the Tynecastle management on several occasions: “Results, no matter the game, is what gets you that belief and time. We’re definitely in an era where everything is a must-win and if you don’t win by tomorrow it’s not good enough.

“But that’s the way it is and you just need to have a calmness to understand it. Opinions are massive on social media now and every week there’s another one doing the rounds.

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“All I can do is continue to work hard, continue to see progression and hopefully, and this is the bigger picture for me, the whole club moves forward, not just we have one good season and do well, it's about having a team that can compete year after year, and have players who get better.”

The 37-year-old ex-Hearts forward is no stranger to a trip to Hampden having made over 50 appearances for his county. However, while he will be sure to draw on his own experiences, the Hearts boss knows it’s all about what happens between the 22 players on the grass:

“I think it’s more when you’re out there and at the end of the day the two sets of fans are going and giving it an unbelievable atmosphere. 

“It’s 11 guys vs 11 guys and we’ve probably got the benefit of there’s not that much pressure on us because everyone thinks we’re going to get beat.”

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While he is still not ready for a game-day return, club captain Craig Gordon has been reintroduced to the training sessions with his experience as a leader a vital addition ahead of Sunday. 

However, Naismith has praised his squad for all being desperate to show their passion and commitment to the team, in spite of lengthy injuries: “One thing I’ve liked about this squad, last season when we played in the derby games, this season they all want to be part of this. 

“They all want to be part of it when we go to Ibrox, and they’ll be around the squad even though they’re not playing, they want to be there. 

“This weekend they all want to be part of the squad so it’s everybody. It’s Craig Gordon, it’s Barrie MacKay, it’s Craig Halkett.

“Everybody that’s not involved, playing their part in it and I don’t even need to work to get that bit here because they’ve all got it. They all want to be part of it. They want to be successful.