|Jim Jefferies knows he and his team are in for another hard shift tonight as Celtic will be lining up on the other half of the Parkhead pitch. The win over Rangers on Saturday showed that Hearts were genuine contenders for the title, but Jefferies knows Celtic will be another stern test. Hearts have picked up an impressive 31 points out of a possible 33 in an 11-game unbeaten run and lie just seven points behind leaders Celtic, having played one game less, and two points behind second-placed Rangers, who have a game in hand on Hearts. Jefferies said: "We learnt on Saturday just how tough it's going to be to keep it going. They've had a nice bit of warning that - especially with Celtic on Wednesday - every game is going to be hard now because you want to keep in contention. We got a taste of it on Saturday and that's something I hope the players learn from. It was a good result for Scottish football."
Hearts have not been beaten in the league since 31 October last year, when they were beaten 3-0 at home by Kilmarnock. Last Saturday, Ryan Stevenson, scored the only goal to defeat Rangers despite Hearts failing to reach the heights of previous performances. Jefferies added: "It's great that when we don't play well - or we're not allowed to play well - we can dig in and get a result. It should give you a lot of confidence."
The only time Hearts have dropped points on the run, which included a 2-0 win over Celtic at Tynecastle, was a home draw with Inverness. Jefferies went on: "We were outstanding that day, but we didn't win. That's just football and you've got to learn when you're not always at your best you win and sometimes you're at your best and you don't win. The players deserve enormous credit for the way we've bounced back in the last 11 games." After tonight's game, Hearts take on St Johnstone and then Rangers at Ibrox. Asked whether he would settle for two draws from the two Old Firm games, Jefferies said: "I'd rather win one and lose one; I want to win them both. You get more points for a win as opposed to two draws. We'll see over the next three games where we are. If we're still in there close and challenging it's going to give us a lot of confidence. We've never said we're going to go and win the title. What we're doing is trying to put on a bit of a challenge and have a good season and right now we're on track to do that."
Jefferies believes it is too early to determine whether his squad are ready for a title challenge and knows all Hearts' rivals want their good run to end. He said: "They've answered the question so far. Whether they can do it the more the pressure mounts up, we'll soon find out. The games outwith the Old Firm are going to become harder and harder because everyone wants to knock you off your perch - that's the nature of football." Of course, a good run catches the eye of other clubs who may want to cherry pick from the players involved. The transfer window is still open and Jefferies hopes his squad survive intact and remain together until the end of the season. He added: "If we get an offer from somebody we can't turn down, we'll have to make the decision. I hope it doesn't happen. Until Monday at midnight comes, we'll just try to not answer the phone too often."