Michael Smith won’t forget the last time he went to Ibrox with a Hearts side riding high in the Premiership.

His mates of a Light Blue persuasion won’t allow him to.

On that occasion, in October 2018, Craig Levein’s team were already clear at the summit having dropped only two points from their opening seven matches and with rumblings of a Tynecastle title challenge emanating from the capital.

It all began to unravel in the space of 32 minutes at Ibrox as Rangers romped into a 3-0 lead before Smith’s needless second yellow for bodychecking Jon Flanagan ended any hopes of a statement win in Govan.

Lessons have been learned insists Smith as Robbie Neilson prepares to take his Jambos side to the south side of Glasgow on Saturday knowing victory would see them leapfrog Steven Gerrard’s champions at the top.

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Hearts are the only unbeaten side in the Premiership after eight games.

And while talk of a title tilt may be premature, Smith, two games shy of 150 in maroon, is hoping he can celebrate that landmark when it comes round with Hearts sitting proudly top of the pile.

He said: “I don’t think we can’t be confident, we’ve started really well.

“We know they’re top of the league and we’re just behind them, so I think it makes for a good game.

“People have said they’re not the Rangers of last year but they’re top of the league for a reason.

“They’ve got a great squad, they’re dangerous and we’ll go there under no illusions it’s going to be a hard game.

“I’ve had plenty of tough times through in Glasgow.

“That day I got sent off? Some of my mates back home are all Rangers fans and there were a few of them there that day - they’ll never let me forget that one.

“I’ll put it down to a bad day at the office.

“You go there and the first 10 minutes is always frantic and the crowd is always on you.

“But you get through that and the game settles down, and you’ve got to play your football and take chances.

“Of course it’s important to keep 11 on the pitch. Especially at Ibrox it’s hard, they make the pitch big and the crowd are on top of you so if you go down to 10 then you basically have no chance.

“My fault a few years ago. But 90 per cent of things have to go right on the day to get a result at Ibrox.

“I think you’ve got to aim as high as you possibly can.

“Rangers won the league last year at a canter and, if we’re going to do something special this season, we’ve got to go to places like Ibrox and challenge them - and beat them.”

Much has happened in a barmy three years for the Jambos since that clash. Hearts ended up finishing sixth and a year later were plunged into the Championship after being relegated on a points per game basis following the covid curtailment of the campaign.

Neilson returned to the helm to safely navigate the journey back to the top flight and their impressive start sees them currently sitting best of the rest, one point behind champions Rangers.

Smith, 33, is one of only three survivors from that Hearts side from three years ago.

And he insisted: “The squad is at a better level now. We started really well that year but this year the quality we have, the togetherness we have is second to none.

“Everyone from the outside will be looking at it and saying, ‘we’ll see where Hearts are after this one’.

“The club, the fans, everything, the demand on us is huge. We want to be where we are come the end of the season.

“It’s great to be involved in. We’ve brought in some great quality. We have a squad of 20, 21 players who can all comfortably start a game and play well.

“I don’t think we’ll ever go into a game thinking we’ll go there for a draw. I don’t think it’s in the gaffer’s thoughts, I don’t think in the squad of players we have the mentality is like that.

“We’re going to go there and try to get three points.”

Smith is set to go up against his Northern Ireland colleague Steven Davis who won his 130th cap against Bulgaria in midweek.

The Hearts man is well behind on 19 appearances for his country but pulled out of the recent World Cup qualifying double header and insists it was the right decision.

He explained: “I wasn’t 100 per cent coming back from the last international with a little injury. It wasn’t going away so I just needed a rest.

“It will help me in the long run. It was a tough decision to pull out of that squad, it was two massive games they had.

“But if I went there and played and got a proper injury I would have been devastated.

“What a player Steven is. I will shake his hand before and after the game.

“He trains 100 per cent every day. Everyone should aspire to be like him.

“But hopefully we get the better of them.”