Sun, Sep 21, 2003 - Page 23 News List

Rangers told by manager to stop Hearts in league


Rangers manager Alex McLeish has told his team to forget about the dramatic 2-1 Champions League win over Stuttgart and focus on in-form Hearts on Sunday.

Rangers lead the Scottish standings with 15 points, while third-place Hearts has 12. The game is the marquee matchup in the sixth round of the Premier League.

"We can't lose sight of how important the SPL title is to Rangers this season," said McLeish. "We know we can't guarantee anything, but everybody should be aware that the winners of this season's championship goes straight into the group stage of the Champions League next year."

Rangers rallied against Stuttgart on Tuesday, scoring twice in the last 15 minutes against a team that hadn't allowed a goal in five games. And there was excitement in just qualifying for the group stage, as the Glasgow club scored late to beat Copenhagen away in the second leg.

"We know how exciting the last few weeks have been, and so would love to get into that phase year in, year out," said McLeish. "Therefore we really have to go to places like Tynecastle and continue our good run of form, although we do face a team that are very much on form."

Led by top scorer Mark De Vries, Hearts has four wins and a loss. De Vries has netted four times. Hearts also has a perfect record at home through three matches. But Rangers won all four matches against Hearts last season, including a 2-0 triumph in the second-last round. Rangers went on to win the title over Celtic on goal difference.

"We had to go there at the end of last season and get a result," said McLeish. "It was a stage where we had dropped some points to Celtic and Dundee, and people were questioning our bottle. But the players dug deep and hit a bit of form again at the right time."

Second-place Celtic, trying to recover from a disappointing loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday, plays fifth-place Motherwell on Saturday. In other games, Dunfermline hosts Hibernian, Aberdeen travels to Dundee, Livingston hosts Kilmarnock, and Partick Thistle plays Dundee United in a battle of winless teams.

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