Smith welcomes Hearts' challenge
Rangers manager Walter Smith has hailed Hearts as real contenders in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League this season, and told them he welcomes the challenge.
The Edinburgh outfit sit third in the table, five points behind the Scottish champions and just two adrift of second-placed Celtic, although they have played two games more than both Old Firm clubs.
Smith credits boss Jim Jefferies for making the difference at Tynecastle this term and believes they are now finally realising their true potential.
"I think they are contenders," Smith said. "They've got themselves up into that position.
"Ourselves and Celtic had good opening runs to the season and have dropped a couple of points in the last few weeks.
"There wasn't a steadiness about Hearts at the start of the season but it looks as though Jim has a steadiness about his team at the present moment.
"I feel, over the last few seasons, if there had been a steadiness, Hearts would have been up there, along with Dundee United, challenging the Old Firm. They are there now and it's a challenge you welcome."
Following the postponement of Saturday's game against St Mirren because of water damage caused by burst pipes at Ibrox, Rangers have also seen their match against Dundee United tonight fall victim to the weather for a second time.
That means the Scottish champions have had just one domestic outing - the 1-1 draw at Inverness - in the last month.
"It's awkward for everyone," Smith admitted. "We had a situation where we played quite a lot of games in a two or three-month period and then you have a spell when you only play a couple of games.
"It's how the players handle it mentally. There is obviously an upset in routine, not so much for us because we are fortunate to have an undersoil-heated pitch, but for a number of teams it's awkward in terms of the training.
"You've just got to try to handle it mentally and be ready to play. We would have been hopeful of getting more games to play than we have had at the moment but that wasn't to be."
Meanwhile, Smith confirmed that Maurice Edu and Kyle Lafferty could both return for the Boxing Day visit to Motherwell, although Nikica Jelavic is unlikely to make his comeback until mid-January.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
Latest in Sport
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Best memes and Tweets, including Lukas Podolski selfie with Angela Merkel
Germany 1 Argentina 0 player ratings
Shakira performs at World Cup closing ceremony at the Maracana
World Cup 2014 final: Vladimir Putin takes seat next to Sepp Blatter at the Maracana
World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi suffers humiliation of walking past World Cup trophy TWICE after being crowned player of the tournament with Golden Ball
- 1 Belgium fan Axelle Despiegelaere lands L'Oreal campaign after World Cup viral photo
- 2 Orange Is The New Black has not been cancelled – it was a hoax
- 3 Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
- 5 Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
War is war: Why I stand with Israel
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’
Emergency data law: David Cameron plots to bring back snoopers’ charter
NUT strike: David Cameron announces crackdown on strike action ahead of mass industrial action