Ian Harkes believes Dundee United must show Rangers respect as they try to bolster their top-six ambitions at Ibrox.
United are in decent form, winning their last two Premiership matches against Ross County and Livingston, but go up against champions-elect the Gers – unbeaten in the league this season – on Sunday.
Steven Gerrard’s side will be aiming for another three points to aid in wrapping up the league title as soon as possible.
However, the Tangerines’ American playmaker insists the Tannadice men head for Glasgow with ambitions of returning to the top half of the table.
Top-six hopes are alive and kicking for United
“We can definitely carry confidence from Livi and Ross County and keep that momentum going but, of course, we have to respect Rangers at Ibrox,” the Harkes said.
“I think it was just a case of getting our heads around where we are in the table.
“It’s a tough spot with the amount of teams putting pressure on us and closing the points gap.
“Those were two huge results and keep our hopes of the top six alive.
“We have to keep that same standard of performance and just keep driving each other on and giving each other motivation.
“I think we all know how quickly things can change and that’s why we didn’t try to be too hard on ourselves when we had a few poor results.
“We’re trying to get back on it and it can turn around very quickly.
“It’s very close and we have to keep going and try to get as many points as we can from the remaining games, which will be tough.”
With St Mirren, who currently occupy sixth spot, dropping points against Hamilton in midweek, Harkes believes United’s hopes of leapfrogging the Buddies before the split have been boosted, despite the Paisley side still having a game in hand.
He continued: “I think we’ve always got our eye on other teams, especially those with games in hand, and them dropping those points is, of course, good for us.
“We’ve got to continue just focusing on ourselves and get these remaining games under wraps.”
Light Blues have been Harkes’ toughest test in Scotland
The battle for top-six football post-split starts up again on Glasgow’s southside this weekend and Harkes knows United will have to be at their best to get anything from the Light Blues.
“I think everyone has to be on their best game,” he added.
“We have to be 100% because it’s going to be a lot of work defensively to make sure we get our shape right.
“On the ball we have to continue to threaten them as well and try to open up.
“Rangers are dangerous in all parts of the pitch, as they’ve shown with where they are in the table.
“It’s not going to be an easy task and we have to get our heads right.”
Harkes takes positives from the narrow 2-1 defeat at Tannadice the last time the teams faced off and believes the Gers have been one of the best outfits he’s faced in his two years in Scotland.
He continued: “It’s definitely between them and Celtic for the toughest opponent so far.
“Playing against better players and the top teams in your league and around the UK is very important to learn from how they play and adapt to them.
“You want to challenge yourself and, of course, you learn things as you go.
“I think we definitely gave them a tough game (last time) and we’re disappointed with ourselves with the way it went about because we got ourselves back into a good position and then gave away a free-kick.
“They’re very good on set-pieces so I thought if we could maybe have pushed them a bit further and were a bit better on the ball then we could have made a better game of it in the second half.
“We’ll take the positives from that and try to defend like we did but going there it’s another game entirely and we need to be focused.”
American hoping to add a consistent cutting edge in attacking areas
On a personal note, Harkes has been pleased with his own displays of late, adding quality at the top end of the pitch for United.
He got his first goal of the season last month, albeit in the 5-1 defeat to St Mirren, and it was one of supreme quality. The American also assisted Lawrence Shankland for his first goal in the 3-0 win over the Lions last weekend.
After finally finding his feet at Premiership level, Harkes hopes his good form continues until the campaign is out.
He commented: “I definitely want to continue to add an end product to my game and it’s just about trying to get into the right areas.
“I was happy to have that impact in the last game against Livi but it’s not particularly down to anything.
“It’s about timing and trying to work on that in training and games.
“I want to be positive, get into the final third and be dangerous.
“It’s definitely been a good step up and challenge to go into the Premiership.
“It’s definitely had its challenges for me with the speed of the game and the physicality but I like to think I’ve held my own.
“I want to add a lot more to my game, like I said, to be more of a dangerous midfielder.
“In terms of form, there’s always ups and downs throughout and people challenging for positions so the most important thing right now is the team’s performance and how we’re moving forward.
“Moving towards the split fixtures we need to make sure we’re all at it.”