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.
Latest in Sport
Arsenal transfer news: Arsene Wenger set to cancel moves for Sami Khedira and Morgan Schneiderlin in favour of Jack Wilshere - reports
Cristiano Ronaldo could return against Manchester United - but it won't be like previous reunions
Calum Chambers joins Arsenal: New £16m signing put through Arsenal initiation as he sings The Kooks in front of team-mates
Manchester United transfer news: Mats Hummels, Daley Blind and Thomas Vermaelen on radar as Louis van Gaal reveals he still wants to sign defender
Seydou Keita refuses Pepe handshake before throwing water bottle prior to Roma vs Real Madrid match
- 2 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 3 Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire
- 5 'Hello mum, this is going to be hard for you to read ...'
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
Land for gas: Merkel and Putin discussed secret deal could end Ukraine crisis
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse'