Rangers boss Walter Smith claims Hearts are 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."