Philippe Clement is adamant under-pressure Rangers will focus fully on playing to their own strengths in Sunday’s Scottish Gas Scottish Cup semi-final with Hearts.

The Ibrox side head into the Hampden showdown on the back of a damaging run of two wins from their last eight games in all competitions, with their cinch Premiership title bid having been dented significantly by a return of just two points from their last three matches.

Hearts, by contrast, go into the match buoyed by back-to-back wins over St Mirren and Livingston and are 11 points clear of their nearest rivals in their quest to secure third place in the table.

Clement dismissed any notion that his side must adapt their game-plan in any way to deal with Steven Naismith’s on-form team and instead must simply attempt to play their own game to a higher standard than they have been recently.

“I don’t counter anything,” he said. “We will play our own game, we don’t need to counter another team.

“We are going to play our own game and believe in ourselves and show our qualities.

“To win we need a better performance than we had on Wednesday (in the 0-0 draw at Dundee), for sure. We need to do the right things against Hearts who have played a very good season.

“It’s a very interesting test for the players and I know they are all hungry to go to the final. They’ve had the experience of going to a final and winning it (the Viaplay Cup) and some of them have won several already so the mood is big.”

Clement felt some anxiety crept into Rangers’ play on Wednesday and caused them to go too direct, so he has called for them to rediscover their composure when in possession.

“Against Dundee we were too direct so we lost the balance in that way,” he said. “Sometimes we wanted to play too fast and it’s finding that good balance by showing it with images and what we need to do and take lessons out of that.

“Maybe the hunger was too big to go too fast forward. We need to find a good balance and do that in a better way against Hearts.”

Rangers have been subjected to ferocious criticism recently and Clement admits he will find out a lot about his players in terms of how they respond under pressure in the coming weeks.

“It is easy to be good and be happy when it goes easy,” he said. “It is when the going gets tough you see the personality and the character.

“Players can grow in this. It is a growing experience. It is not only from nature that you have this, you can grow in that.

“That is an important part of being part of this club. It is also something that Nils (Koppen, director of football recruitment) knows really well, it is something to look at in recruitment also.”

Hearts manager Steven Naismith admitted he always expected his team to respond after coming from two goals down to beat Livingston 4-2.

The hosts were punished for a slow start after going two down inside 22 minutes following a Stephen Kelly brace.

But Hearts fought back in emphatic fashion after scoring through Jorge Grant, Yutaro Oda, Cammy Devlin and Lawrence Shankland before the break.

The win kept Hearts 11 points clear in third place in the cinch Premiership and confirmed European football for next season, with the Jambos now guaranteed at least a top-four finish.

Naismith insists he was not surprised by the manner of his side’s comeback.

He said: “We didn’t come out the changing room for the first 10-15 minutes. It was a poor start, really poor, really sloppy, and then brilliant.

“We lost two goals but it’s the third time we have come back. When the second goal goes in there’s a frustration from me and the fans.

“I knew when we were 2-0 down we’d come back into the game because we have shown it before. The element of having a ruthless streak and being more clinical is something we have talked about.

“And that part I am really happy with because our speed of attack, our bodies in the box, that’s what gets us back in the game. There were some really good goals.”

Naismith handed Craig Gordon his first league start since Christmas Eve 2022 ahead of the goalkeeper playing in next Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Rangers.

He added: “He’s been playing in the cup and I thought it was a good opportunity to get him a game before the semi-final. That was the decision.”

Livingston remain nine points adrift at the bottom ahead of the final five post-split matches and manager David Martindale insists the way the match unfolded summed up their season.

He said: “I think what you saw there in the first half was the story of our season played out in 45 minutes.

“We started the game really well and should have scored a third when Tete (Yengi) was clean through against Craig Gordon. That was an unbelievable chance.

“Stephen came up with two good goals. To give Hearts their due, they scored two decent goals but we gifted them the goals.”

Asked why Tete Yengi received a second yellow card just seconds after being substituted, Martindale added: “The kid comes off the park frustrated, he’s kicked one of our bottles. He’s kicked it into our dugout.

“I’m not saying what he’s done is right but I think you need to give him some leeway. I just think there has to be a bit of common sense applied.”

Derek McInnes was proud of his Kilmarnock side for securing their place in the top six of the cinch Premiership with two games remaining before the split.

Killie finished 10th last year but are now guaranteed to be competing for a place in Europe in the closing weeks of the campaign after their 1-1 draw away to Hearts took them seven points clear of seventh-placed Hibernian.

The fourth-placed Ayrshire side claimed their point when Marley Watkins’ stunning second-half strike cancelled out Kenneth Vargas’ 10th-minute header for the Jambos.

“I’m very much a happy man, to do it with two games to spare is testament to so much good work within the club, particularly from the players, the staff, the board,” said manager McInnes.

“The club was in a poor place three years ago, we came in just over two years ago as a Championship team and managed to get out at the first attempt.

“This time last year we were still punching, fighting and scrapping to try and make sure we stayed in the league. A lot of changes in the summer and we’ve managed to deliver a top-six finish, which is terrific.”

McInnes was encouraged by the way his side came back strongly after the break at Tynecastle.

“A response was needed at half-time, we passed up a couple of really good chances in the first half,” said McInnes. “But I thought we were terrific in the second half.”

Hearts boss Steven Naismith felt his side lacked sharpness, with several players having been on international duty, but he was pleased that neither Killie nor St Mirren were able to eat into their 11-point advantage in third place.

“After the international break, another game has gone by and the teams below us haven’t gained any ground on us,” he said. “That’s a positive.

“On the back of a defeat (at Ross County last time out), the biggest thing is that you get some sort of points in the next game and we have done that.

“For me, the hardest games to deal with are the ones after the international breaks. It’s really difficult because four or five of our players didn’t get back into training until Friday.

“We started the game well, asked the question and got on the front foot, and then we get the goal at a good time. But then in those wee moments when we did break through, we just didn’t have that sharpness.

“We knew it was going to be a battle and a fight, Kilmarnock are really good at what they do. They are direct and the one time we don’t set up properly they get their goal. It’s a brilliant finish from Marley, who is having a really good season.”

Ross County interim manager Don Cowie was in no doubt how important their three points against Hearts will be in the club’s battle to avoid relegation this season.

A double from Simon Murray led the way for the Staggies in a 2-1 victory over the Jambos, who are still sitting comfortably third in the table.

While County remain in the play-off position, the result did move them 10 points clear of Livingston at the foot of the table – and kept them within reach of both St Johnstone and Aberdeen, who they play next.

“Any three points is massive,” said Cowie.

“We were playing against a very good team, comfortably third in the league for a reason, but I’m proud of the group for standing up to that and getting three points.

“I’ve been a little bit disappointed with the way we’ve responded after half-time in games, especially at home, so it was just a case of making sure they came out flying and ready in the second half.

“We expected a reaction from Hearts, so getting a second goal was vital.

“Hearts are an excellent team. Beating them here has to give us confidence going into the last eight games of the season.

“We’ve taken eight points at home, and I’m really happy with that, but now we’ve got to transfer that to away games because we’ve got two very tough games coming up.”

Jambos boss Steven Naismith, meanwhile, was frustrated over VAR’s involvement in the match.

Video referee John Beaton recommended an on-field review to Grant Irvine when Lawrence Shankland was deemed to be in the way of County keeper George Wickens from an offside position at a free-kick, which Stephen Kingsley sent into the back of the net.

“When the free-kick goes in, there are 15 minutes to go so I’m confident we would score again,” Naismith said.

“I thought that was a poor decision, and it was a big moment. I don’t understand why it was chalked off.

“The fourth official said that the goalie had to look around Shanks to see the ball, but I think it’s a really poor decision.

“We could have done better in the game, and what cost us was poor defending. How we defended gave us a big challenge as the game went on.”

Steven Naismith believes Stephen Kingsley can still earn more Scotland caps even though the on-form defender did not get the nod to join three of his Hearts team-mates in the latest squad.

Free-scoring captain Lawrence Shankland plus goalkeepers Zander Clark and Craig Gordon were included in Steve Clarke’s 25-man pool for the national team’s pre-European Championship friendly double-header against Netherlands and Northern Ireland later this month.

Kingsley, who won the last of his two caps against Ukraine in September 2022, was also understood to have been in the thoughts of the Scotland boss after returning to his best form at Tynecastle this term.

However, the prospects of the 29-year-old former Swansea and Hull defender – who can play at centre-back or left-back – going to Germany this summer appear slim after he did not make the squad announced earlier this week, with Kieran Tierney, Andy Robertson, Liam Cooper and Scott McKenna the left-sided options preferred by Clarke.

“The fact he’s being talked about as being part of the national set-up, he can be proud of that,” said Hearts boss Naismith.

“You never know what can happen. He’s been in the set-up not so long ago after a long period out, and that’s what he’ll strive for.

“The whole Scotland squad has gone up a few notches so he can take credit from making the last squad he did (in 2022) because the competition at that point was really good.

“Yes, there’s a lot of left-sided players but that versatility Stephen’s got probably puts him in a slightly different bracket. It will be hard work for him to make the Euros squad but he will never give up.

Despite his international omission, Naismith has been hugely impressed with the way Kingsley has asserted himself as one of Hearts’ key men since arriving in 2020 after injuries derailed his career down south following his first Scotland cap in 2016.

“I’d argue he’s in the running for our club player of the year,” said Naismith. “He’s consistent, he’s the ultimate professional and he’s somebody who has had to work really hard in the last five years because of the injuries he’s come through.

“I played with him in the national set-up and to go from how promising that part of his career was to then have such a long period out, your career will go one way or the other so he’s worked really hard to maximise himself.

“He probably came to Hearts at a time when he could have been at a higher level but his (injury) history counted against him. He’s come in here and the fit has been brilliant.

“He’s a leader, he’s versatile and he’s got real quality. I think he’s been one of our best players this season.

“The biggest thing for him is that he’s enjoying everything at the moment, he’s enjoying his football and where he sits within the squad. He’s a big help for me personally.”

Craig Gordon is adamant he would feel equipped to go to this summer’s European Championships with Scotland even if he is unable to win back his Hearts starting place from Zander Clark.

The 41-year-old was undisputed number one for club and country before suffering a double leg-break on Christmas Eve of 2022 that sidelined him for almost a year.

Gordon returned to contention in December but has so far been restricted to just two Scottish Cup appearances against lower-league sides Spartans and Airdrie, with Hearts boss Steven Naismith keeping faith with Clark for cinch Premiership duties.

With the Euros kicking off in just over three months, the former Sunderland and Celtic keeper is running out of time to re-establish himself at club level.

Asked if he feels he would be fit and sharp enough to go to the showpiece in Germany even if not playing regularly for Hearts, Gordon – capped 74 times by his country – said: “Absolutely, yes. I feel really good.

“My body’s in the best shape it has been in years. There’s no doubt in my mind I’m capable of doing that. I just hope I get the opportunity to show everybody else as well.

“I’ve not spoken to Steve Clarke but I’m still hopeful. I still feel as if I’m capable, I feel my body’s in a good place, I feel ready to play. I definitely feel like I can still play at that level but that’s a choice for Steve.”

Gordon is expected to get another timely run-out for Hearts in Monday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final away to Morton, with the Scotland squad for the March friendly double-header against Netherlands and Northern Ireland due to be named just days later.

The veteran appears to be vying with current number one Angus Gunn, clubmate Clark, Motherwell’s Liam Kelly and Rangers number two Robby McCrorie to make the squad.

“We’ll see,” said Gordon, regarding the prospect of being selected by Clarke next week. “I’ll hopefully get the nod for the game on Monday (at Morton), and if I continue playing in the cup, it gives me another appearance, another chance to play.

“I don’t know what the manager (Clarke) is thinking but I’m certainly ready and able to join up if he decides to choose me.”

Asked if he could envisage a scenario whereby both he and clubmate Clark go to the Euros, Gordon said: “Anything’s possible. I don’t know what the manager’s thinking, what he sees as his best options but I’m still hopeful.

“There are nine league games to go, potentially three cup games, so I’ve got a lot still to fight for. I need to play as many of those as possible and try and force my way in there.”

Gordon has generally been a number one throughout his career and admits he is in a “strange” situation whereby he finds himself cast as a back-up despite never having been dropped due to his form at Hearts.

“Being a goalkeeper, it seems to change things slightly in terms of people’s views,” he said. “There’s two sides to it. If you’re in my camp, you say I only lost my place because of an injury, and if you’re not then you say the man in possession keeps the gloves.

“There’s two ways to think about it. It’s not fallen on my side just yet but I can only do what I can do. I feel like I’m training really well and giving myself that opportunity.”

*Craig Gordon was speaking as Hearts launched their Maroon Mile project to mark 150 years of history in Edinburgh’s Gorgie and Dalry area. The Jambos have announced plans for a trail dedicated to their existence and achievements within the local community.

Steven Naismith condemned the “idiots” who threw objects at Lawrence Shankland as he waited to take Hearts’ penalty in their 1-1 draw at home to Hibernian.

The Jambos top scorer had to hold his nerve before he equalised from the spot just before half-time after a range of items rained down on him from the stand behind the goal housing Hibs fans.

Shankland was struck by more objects when defending a corner later in the game, while Hibs goal-scorer Emiliano Marcondes was also hit by something thrown from the Hearts end.

Hearts boss Naismith said: “I think it was everything that was in everyone’s pockets, whether it be coins, vapes or whatever. All the stuff getting launched on, it’s just not acceptable.

“If that then gets looked at, what’s going to happen is they are just going to reduce the amount of fans that can go into that stand and that’s going to impact what I think is a good atmosphere, a good derby which has a fierce rivalry.

“It’s just idiots that are going to spoil the party for everybody. It’s just not good enough, end of.”

Shankland’s penalty – contentiously awarded after Hearts forward Kenneth Vargas went down while trying to get away from Will Fish – just before the break cancelled out Marcondes’ 27th-minute opener for Hibs.

“It was end to end at times, both teams had chances and, ultimately, that bit of quality was the thing that was missing in the game,” added Naismith.

Hibs boss Nick Montgomery was adamant his team deserved to win the game and felt referee Kevin Clancy made an error by sticking with his decision to award the penalty to Hearts even though he was advised by VAR to review the incident on the pitchside monitor.

“The VAR is there to call the referee over so he doesn’t make a mistake and when he called him over, I looked at it on the monitor and my opinion is no way it’s a penalty – and I don’t think anybody else probably thought it was,” said Montgomery.

“And then, lo and behold, he’s got a clear view of it, he can slow it down, he can watch it. Yeah, he gives a penalty. I’m just really disappointed that we don’t take three points. It cost us two points.

“Maybe we’ll get another apology this week like we did after Aberdeen. Maybe we won’t. But at the end of the day, what we won’t get back is any points.”

Asked about the objects being thrown from the stands, Montgomery said: “I don’t condone it, Steven doesn’t condone it. Neither do the clubs. Unfortunately there were a few things.

“Emi Marcondes had it in the first half as well when we had serious pressure on them.”

Hearts manager Steven Naismith hailed the improvements his players have made to their mentality after watching them beat Motherwell 2-0 to collect an eighth successive win.

Second-half goals from Lawrence Shankland and Kenneth Vargas sent the Gorgie side 14 points clear in third place in the Premiership.

Hearts have won 11 of their last 12 games in a fruitful spell stretching back to December and Naismith insists there have been vast improvement on and off the pitch in that period.

He said: “There has definitely been a mentality shift for sure.

“We go into every game wanting to win. We understand there are times where we need to take risks and there are times like today where we need to be patient.

“You can’t get sucked into a fight or get frustrated. It’s these wee small things that change the mentality and the progression of the team.

“There is definitely a mentality shift in what we expect from each other and also what we expect the outcome to be.

“Yeah there’s going to be bumps in the road and we will get beat and things like that, but I think we will react to those situations better than we would have a year ago.”

After a nondescript first half, Shankland took his goal tally for the season to 25 when he headed in Alan Forrest’s free-kick in the 67th minute.

Vargas wrapped up the points in injury time with a fine finish from close range.

Despite moving to within 10 points of second-place Rangers – who travel to St Johnstone on Sunday – Naismith played down any suggestion of Hearts catching either half of the Old Firm.

He added: “They’re (Celtic and Rangers) still a bit ahead.

“We will get to April/May and if we are fortunate enough to be close then you can dream.

“But for us, we just need to keep winning games and the gap (to fourth place) will be bigger. We know as a squad but it’s week to week.

“The way we managed the game today, our speed of attack, these are the real markers of progression for me which should ultimately lead to success.”

Motherwell manager Stuart Kettlewell was furious that his players switched off for the opening goal.

He said: “There is real frustration with what feels like our Achilles heel.

“You have the top marksman in the country who is absolutely flying at the moment and we give him the freedom of our box.

“It’s good delivery into our box but, and I said this to the players, you can deal with these moments to 95 per cent of the game at venues like these and you need to be 100 per cent in a game like this.”

Steven Naismith was delighted at his side’s performance as they powered to the last eight of the Scottish Gas Scottish Cup with a 4-1 thumping of Airdire.

Hearts raced into a three-goal lead with just 21 minutes on the clock after goals from Lawrence Shankland, Kenneth Vargas and Calem Nieuwenhof had them on easy street.

Adam Frizzell restored some hope for the hosts, though that would be extinguished when Shankland dinked home his 24th goal of the season with 17 minutes remaining.

“It was a really good performance, we scored early goals, scored four goals and it’s a comfortable night,” Naismith said.

“On top of that, the detail that we’d worked on, nearly all of it was right and the players executed it brilliantly.

“There was loads of positives. I’d say we’re still a good bit away, we could be more clinical and in some moments I think when it went 3-0 we picked the wrong option and were forcing it.”

Hearts will now travel to Morton in the quarter-finals, hoping to reach Hampden for the second time this season having already made the semi-final of the Viaplay Cup.

Dougie Imrie’s cinch Championship side shocked Motherwell to book their place in the next round, and Naismith is anticipating a tough encounter.

“Everybody in the last eight thinks they have a chance,” he added.

“Our tie away to Morton, people will think we are favourites, but think there’s a potential upset there.

“I think if we’re not at it then it’ll be a really difficult game, they’ve shown on Friday that they are a good team and are in form.

“We want to go as far as we can, one of the games this season that is disappointing is the semi-final in the last cup – we want to get to the semi-final and do well this time.”

Despite a night filled with positives for the Tynecastle side, there was one major disappointment as Craig Halkett limped off after 25 minutes.

Halkett had only recently returned from a year long lay-off with a ruptured ACL, though Naismith is hopeful the defender will make a speedy recovery.

“It’s just something with his knee, it doesn’t seem to be major but we don’t know at the moment,” he explained.

“We’ll just have to wait and see, at that moment in the game there wasn’t any major risk to continue on.”

Airdrie boss Rhys McCabe felt his side were competitive against their Premiership opponents, despite coming out on the end of a comprehensive defeat.

“I thought for large parts of the first half we were competitive,” McCabe said.

“We started the game really well with intent and didn’t sit off the game as probably a lot of smaller clubs would do against a big club like Hearts.

“You give a player the quality of Lawrence Shankland three or four opportunities then he’s bound to take one or two.

“There are loads of positives going around this club, yes we lost the game and are disappointed, but we’ve just come up from League One through the play-offs, got into the last 16 of the Scottish Cup and have the final of the Challenge Cup against The New Saints in a couple of weeks’ time.”

Steven Naismith heaped praise on “lethal finisher” Lawrence Shankland after the talismanic striker’s 50th goal for Hearts secured a 1-0 away win over St Johnstone.

The 28-year-old, who joined from Belgian club Beerschot in the summer of 2022, has taken just over one-and-a-half seasons to bring up his half-century in maroon.

“He is at the peak of his career, his numbers are the best of his career,” said manager Naismith after Shankland’s McDiarmid Park strike.

“That’s partly down to him and the team, he’s a lethal finisher. He’s got the finesse and the touch to take his chances when they come along.

“He’s showed why he’s the best striker in the league. He’s driven, he’s got drive – he’s got the Euros (in the summer with Scotland), he’s hunting down top goalscorers.

“He’s in a good moment and as a group we’re in a good moment.”

Victory in Perth kept the in-form Jambos 12 points clear in the fight for third place in the cinch Premiership. It was their sixth win in a row in all competitions and their 12th in 15 league games since the start of November.

“I think it was deserved,” said Naismith of the hard-fought win. “I think there was a level of respect shown the way they set up with the low block.

“It was up to us to break that down and stay solid, but we created some good chances.

“We needed to move the ball quickly in the second half and once we got the goal we controlled the game.

“We have been good at working it out, understanding what’s working and what’s not.

“What we need to add now is more goals, but it’s a good place to be winning these games.”

St Johnstone manager Craig Levein – a two-time former Hearts boss – took encouragement from the way his side competed against the form team in the country.

“I was really pleased with our performance, we matched Hearts in every department,” he said.

“They are by far the third best team in the country but I was pleased to see us play some good football.

“I thought we had possession for long periods and that pleased me.

“The fact we lost 1-0 to a good Hearts side, with Lawrence Shankland scoring a goal that I don’t think anyone else on the field would have a chance of scoring, the way we played pleases me.

“I thought we were in it for long periods and our goalkeeper had very little to do.”

Former Scotland manager Levein believes Shankland – who has not always been guaranteed a place in Steve Clarke’s squads – deserves to go to this summer’s European Championship with the national team.

“I don’t think anyone would say he doesn’t, his record speaks for itself,” said Levein.

“In a lot of games this season he’s been the difference for Hearts. I’m a big admirer.”

Steven Naismith lauded his Hearts team for taking command of the race for third place in the cinch Premiership after “getting battered” with criticism during a slow start to the season.

The Jambos moved 10 points clear of fourth-place Kilmarnock on Saturday as a Jorge Grant penalty and a 19th goal of the season for Lawrence Shankland secured a 2-0 win over Aberdeen.

It was a 10th victory in 13 league games for the Edinburgh side, who came under fire in the autumn after winning just three of their opening 10.

“We are in a very good position,” said Naismith. “Our form recently has been really good. After a slow start and getting battered in the press, we have continued to just get on with our business.

“Internally we are comfortable and we are getting our rewards from that. We don’t panic. We didn’t panic against Spartans (in the Scottish Cup), we played to the end and got our goal.

“We were 2-0 down against Dundee and came back. But we have got to see it as, any successful player’s mentality is always ‘I’m doing well, but how can I get to the next bit?’

“Whether you’re a young player breaking into the team or Shanks scoring goals, it’s always ‘how can we be better?’. We are building that mentality and that’s what we need to have.”

Naismith insisted he never doubted that things would come good, even when his team were languishing in the bottom six earlier in the campaign and he was coming under fire from supporters.

“I’ve experienced it as a player,” he said. “I’ve had managers come in that are completely different to the previous one or making lots of changes, and it takes time.

“We are unfortunately in an era of instant success and if that’s not happening then you’re done, you’re not good enough.

“The thing that gave me lots of confidence was a lot of our players were improving day-to-day and we could see it. But the hard part is to do it on a Saturday when there are loads of people watching you, and nerves come into it.

“But once you can start dealing with that and you trust yourself, you improve. At the end of the day I go home and I have got a wife and two kids that are more important than any football game.”

Aberdeen boss Barry Robson was the subject of calls from some supporters to leave towards the end of Saturday’s match, while Jambos fans goaded him with chants of “you’re getting sacked in the morning” as his team slipped to eighth in the table.

“From the minute I have been here I have been under pressure as an Aberdeen manager,” said Robson.

“Anyone who has been an Aberdeen manager will tell you that, and I’m no different.

“I understand the club, I know the club and I know the demands of the club, so I get that but we need to keep going and keep working.

“It is frustrating when there are a couple of decisions that have not been great and we didn’t perform for 20 to 25 minutes.”

Steven Naismith was delighted with the character shown by Hearts as they recovered from a “terrible” first half to tighten their grip on third spot in the cinch Premiership with a 3-2 victory over Dundee at windswept Tynecastle.

The Jambos were booed off at the break as they trailed to strikes from Jordan McGhee and Lyall Cameron, but they roared back in the second half to claim a sixth win in seven matches through goals from Calem Nieuwenhof, new recruit Dexter Lembikisa and substitute Yutaro Oda.

It was the second time in successive homes games Hearts had fought back from two down after they salvaged a 2-2 draw with Ross County last month and they are now eight points clear of nearest challengers Kilmarnock in the battle for third.

“Our second-half performance was really good,” he said. “We got chances early and scored a good goal, and we used that momentum and pressure.

“For most of the second half it was attack v defence and we made the right choices when we got good opportunities

“The first-half performance was terrible. We were laboured, slow and played into Dundee’s hands. At half-time this place was toxic.

“The players knew it wasn’t good enough, we knew it wasn’t good enough and the fans let us know it wasn’t good enough, so you are in a really tough spot.

“For us to come back to win is a really good strength to have, that’s twice we’ve been 2-0 down here and we’ve taken points from both games. That probably wouldn’t have happened in previous seasons.”

Hearts captain Lawrence Shankland saw a penalty saved by Trevor Carson at 2-1 down. It was the 18-goal forward’s third consecutive spot-kick miss, but Naismith is adamant he will continue to take them.

“No, because up until three penalties ago it was brilliant,” he said when asked about Shankland’s recent penalty woe.

“It’s the same as when he wasn’t scoring goals at the start of the season and then he went through two months of scoring nearly every week. He’ll keep taking them and he’ll start scoring again.”

Naismith is hopeful that Scott Fraser’s loan move from Charlton will be finalised in time for Saturday’s match at home to Aberdeen.

“No update, we’re still waiting,” he said. “I’m hoping it can be cleared for the weekend but basically we’re sitting waiting for Charlton to sign it off.

“I’ve not got a clue what the issue is but he’s been in here, he’s been about, so hopefully it’s something that doesn’t take too long.”

Dejected Dundee manager Tony Docherty admitted his Dundee team lost their way after the break.

“It feels like I witnessed two teams out there,” he said. “I couldn’t be more happy with the first half, they executed the game plan to the letter.

“I thought we started the second half well but we got caught up. They will learn the hard way from this. It’s important to make key decisions but that cost us tonight.

“We were the architects of our own downfall but we have to focus on the positives and learn to manage games better.”

Hearts have decided to terminate the season-long loan deal of Rangers midfielder Alex Lowry.

The 20-year-old moved to Tynecastle at the start of August in search of more regular game time but he struggled to nail down a starting berth in Steven Naismith’s team.

Lowry made 17 appearances in total for the Jambos but only 12 as a starter. His best moment in a maroon jersey came in late September when he scored a late winner away to Kilmarnock in the Viaplay Cup.

The Ibrox academy graduate, who has been troubled by a back issue recently, started only two of Hearts’ last eight matches before the winter break.

The Tynecastle club were unable to guarantee him the game time he needs to accelerate his development and have taken the decision to send him back to Ibrox prematurely.

“We took the decision to end the loan with Alex’s best interests in mind,” Naismith told Hearts’ website on Friday evening.

“There is absolutely no doubting Alex’s talents as a player and he’s shown in periods what he’s capable of doing on the pitch.

“But with the competition for places fierce in our squad, he’s probably not going to get the game time that would allow him to develop further, which is one of the reasons he was here in the first place.

“I’ve no doubt he’ll go on to become a top player. He’s a great boy, we thank him for all his efforts at Hearts and wish him well for the future.”

Rangers are now likely to look for another club for Lowry to join for the remainder of the campaign.

The midfielder made a big impact when he burst into the Rangers first team under Giovanni Van Bronckhorst two years ago and he was rewarded in May 2022 with a new contract until the summer of 2025, but so far he has failed to kick on the way the Ibrox club hoped.

Steven Naismith revealed he is hopeful of tying down Alan Forrest on a new contract after seeing the winger become “a big player” for Hearts.

The 27-year-old joined from Livingston on a two-year deal in the summer of 2022.

Naismith has been pleased with Forrest’s form recently and felt he was the best player on the pitch in Tuesday’s 2-1 win away to his former club.

The former Ayr attacker won a penalty, which was missed by Lawrence Shankland, and then set up the two goals for Kenneth Vargas and Shankland.

“For me, Al was man of the match,” said manager Naismith. “He’s somebody who has had to be patient but he’s got really good attributes.

“I’ve questioned his big moments – can we get them more consistent? He’s worked as hard as anybody in the squad to make sure he gets his opportunity and he’s done it.

“Hopefully he will sign a new contract soon. He’s a big player for us.”

Another attacking player to come to the fore for Hearts recently is Vargas, who made it two goals in two games on Tuesday after scoring only once in his previous 22 matches for the Jambos.

Naismith is pleased with the composure he has shown for his strikes against Ross County and Livingston.

“Kenneth is someone who has suffered from being used a lot, he’s done a lot of hard yards that nobody enjoys or appreciates,” said Naismith.

“People have probably expected a bit more. He’s got real quality, he’s impacted the last two games.

“You can teach someone to be a bit better at finishing but when it’s about needing that calmness when you’re through on goal – you see so many going through and hitting the keeper or putting it wide – he’s got that calmness.

“He’s got an understanding of how to use his body. He’s still young, he’s inexperienced, he’s inconsistent but he will be a really good player.”

Vargas, 21, is currently on a season-long loan from Costa Rican club Herediano, with Hearts having an option to purchase the attacker. Naismith is open to making the deal permanent.

“The way the deal’s structured there is no rush,” said the Hearts boss. “We are constantly talking to his representatives and the club he has come from and everyone is comfortable with the situation.

“At the moment I think he is a really good prospect and someone we need to look at potentially keeping, but it needs to be right.”

Steven Naismith praised Hearts goalkeeper Zander Clark for “a brilliant year” and for the way he has dealt with the increased pressure of having stalwart Craig Gordon pushing him for a starting place recently.

The 31-year-old former St Johnstone stopper made his debut for the Jambos a year ago and marked his 50th appearance with a penalty save and an 18th clean sheet in all competitions since taking the gloves as Hearts pulled off a dramatic 1-0 win at city rivals Hibernian on Wednesday.

Clark stepped in after Gordon suffered a double-leg break on Christmas Eve last year at a time when he was established number one for both Hearts and Scotland.

With the 40-year-old having made a remarkable recovery and forced himself back into contention for involvement in the matchday squad this month, Naismith paid tribute to Clark for the way he has coped with the spectre of such a highly-regarded goalkeeper breathing down his neck.

“I think there has been pressure put on externally,” said the Hearts boss. “I have been consistent with what I’ve said: Zander is a top goalie who has had a brilliant year.

“The circumstance he is dealing with is that there is a legend of the club, an unbelievable goalie, who is back fit.

“That is competition for places but it isn’t easy to deal with, especially as a goalie when there is only one position.

“But Zander has dealt with it perfectly. He is a top goalie. He took his chance a year ago, he’s come in and made his Scotland debut and he’s made a massive impact for us (against Hibs).”

Clark has kept 10 clean sheets in 19 league matches this term, underpinning Hearts’ recent surge to third place in the cinch Premiership.

Apart from free-scoring Lawrence Shankland, who snatched a stoppage-time winner on Wednesday with his 16th strike of the campaign, Hearts have struggled to get their forwards firing.

Asked how he would deal with the departure of the talismanic Scotland forward if he was to be sold in January, the manager said: “That’s part and parcel of football.

“I would want to get to a point where if a player leaves or you get a bad injury, you have a list there you can comfortably go at.

“We had it with Josh Ginnelly in the summer, who was a big part of last season for me. He moved on and we had to make different signings. When players go out of the team it creates an opportunity for someone else.

“I was at Kilmarnock when Kris Boyd scored all our goals. He went to Rangers in the January and everybody’s saying ‘what’s going to happen now?’ but me and Colin Nish stepped up and scored goals.

“It happens at every club. No matter who leaves, an opportunity arises for someone else.

“I’m comfortable with our squad. I think we’ve got a good squad. (Kenneth) Vargas, (Yutaro) Oda and (Kyosuke) Tagawa are still young.

“They have good moments and they have moments that can be better. But I think over time they can bring real quality to the squad. I’m comfortable with it all.”

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