McLeish uses mind games as Rangers play catch-up

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The Independent Football

If the intention was to take the pressure off his reigning champions, who start the day eight points behind their table-topping hosts, there could be some merit in his approach. But he also promised that his side were "up for the challenge" and argued that their best performances this season have come in the biggest games.

That much is true. Rangers won the Old Firm derby 3-1 last month and in their next match completed an all-important aggregate win over Famagusta of Cyprus to reach the Champions' League group stage. In their first match in that competition they beat a dangerous Porto side 3-2.

The flip side has been some mediocre domestic displays, including a shock loss at Aberdeen, a 3-0 humiliation at home against Hibs, a 1-1 draw at lowly Falkirk that so enraged McLeish he refused to speak to the press, and a wobble on Tuesday against First Division Clyde in the CIS Cup that required extra-time to complete a comeback from 2-1 down.

"We have done better in the bigger matches this season and hopefully that will be significant," said McLeish, who has a full-strength squad from which to select. "There's no doubt that going 11 points behind would put a lot of pressure on us but we are thinking about reducing the gap to five." Playing down the theoretical damage of defeat, he added: "The league is certainly not won in September. There are a lot of hard games to go and there will be points dropped." He then suggested that Hearts, not Rangers, could start the day with most to lose from a bad result. "When you are on an unbeaten run you sometimes wonder when you might drop points and we want to put doubts in Hearts' minds."

Though Hearts lost in the CIS Cup in midweek, fielding a depleted side, confidence in George Burley's camp is "sky high". "Lifting ourselves for this won't be an issue," his captain, Steven Pressley, said.

Elsewhere today, the second-placed Celtic and fourth-placed Hibs will be looking to maintain their title challenges at home to Inverness and away at Motherwell respectively.