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Darren wonders how Hearts will cope when Rangers turn up title pressure

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RANGERS defender Darren McGregor admits he has been impressed with how Hearts have performed in the SPFL Championship.




Robbie Neilson's team has gone undefeated in the second tier this season and currently sits four points clear at the top of the table after 12 games.


But McGregor has questioned how the Tynecastle club's young players will cope when the pressure on them grows in the weeks ahead.


And the stopper has vowed to turn up the heat on the capital club by helping the Gers overcome Alloa in today's league match at Ibrox.


"Hearts have had a great season so far," he admitted. "I can't say they've not done well - they've done amazingly well.


"The nucleus of players who were involved for them last season have now bedded in.


"I played against them with St Mirren and I think they are a better team this season than last with the experience they have brought in.


"In the summer they signed the big defender Alim Ozturk, who has a decent shot on him, while former Dundee United player Morgaro Gomis has settled it down for them in the middle of the park. I really do think they've done superbly.


"But my question would be about when the pressure starts increasing and their points advantage gets smaller - can they handle it?"


McGregor added: "The lead Hearts had at the top of the league was up to nine points at one stage and now it's four.


"And if we beat Alloa it will be down to one point before they kick-off their match away to Falkirk at 5.30pm.


"All we can do is win games and apply the pressure. We know that we want to be at the top of the table and we will do everything to get there.


"People will tell you that they don't look at papers or their closest contenders but the first thing you do after a game is look to see how your opposition have done. Hearts will be no different.


"This will be the first time since the start of the season that they will really feel the pressure if we get their lead down to a single point.


"It's a totally different ball game when the pressure is on.


"It will be interesting to see how they deal with it."


McGregor came on as a late substitute for Rangers in their 2-1 loss to Hearts at Ibrox on the first weekend of the league season back in August.


However, he insists that Ally McCoist's team has improved massively since that game and has a good chance of avenging that disappointing result when they take on Neilson's side at Tynescastle next Saturday.


THE 29-year-old Light Blues ace said: "The momentum we have gathered over the last eight games means that confidence is high. Any player will tell you that's massive.


"We're training well, scoring and keeping clean sheets. That just builds confidence. It will be a great occasion next week.


"I think some people have just found their feet here. We have built up this momentum of scoring goals and also not conceding them and now it's about keeping that going."


McGregor, though, is focusing fully on today's match with part-time Alloa that Rangers need to win to stay in touch with the league leaders.


He said: "For me, this game against Alloa is just as big as the Hearts one. We need to take the three points and apply the pressure. With Hearts kicking off after we've finished, it gives us a chance to do that.


"But Alloa proved in the last game we played against them at their place that they are a good team. Whether that's also the case away from home we will have to wait and see.


"We're looking forward to it. We have applied ourselves in training this week and we're on a good run just now."


McGregor has established himself as first-choice centre- half during Gers' eight-game winning run and has helped them keep out the opposition's forwards for the last six games.


He said: "Half a dozen clean sheets in a row is good. I have built up a good partnership with Lee McCulloch.


"The manager has told us that we set the tone and lead from the front.


"We know that if we keep a clean sheet in games we'll win them because we have guys up front who will put the ball in the back of the net."


ALTHOUGH he is delighted to be playing now in his preferred position in the heart of the defence, McGregor does not resent having to begin his Rangers career at full-back.


He said: "Centre-half is my position but I played right-back at the start of the season when Richard Foster was injured.


"I enjoyed it even though I felt that I wouldn't fulfil my potential there. Playing right back gave me the grounding I probably needed in a Rangers shirt as it was a position where there maybe wasn't as much expected of me.


"It settled me down so it was a blessing in disguise."


Meanwhile, McGregor has praised the role Kenny Miller has had in Rangers' winning run since returning to the side.


He said: "Kenny is a great leader in the dressing room and on the field. You can see a lot of younger guys looking up to him. He inspires them. He's a great asset.


"I've seen him doing a bit of analysis on TV and he's great at that too. He demands the boys do everything the right way and I've no problem with that.


"It's not as if he moans for no reason, he does it because he wants the best. That includes giving me a hard time for not dropping back and taking the ball off the keeper.


"I have to put my hand up and say, 'Okay, Kenny, I'll do it next time.'


"He has the experience of playing at the highest level.


"You need to absorb all the information he has. You'd be stupid not to. I love all of that."



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