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Ibrox pitch is a level playing field, insists Richard Foster

RICHARD Foster is well-qualified to comment on whether the referee favours Rangers in games at Ibrox having played for both the home team and the away side at the stadium during his career.

Richard Foster expects a title challenge this season. Picture: SNS
Richard Foster expects a title challenge this season. Picture: SNS

Robbie Neilson, the Hearts manager, is clearly preparing for the worst in his side's SPFL Championship opener on Sunday and suggested he has been training with 10 men ahead of the trip to Ibrox.

Foster - who spent nine years at Aberdeen prior to joining Rangers, where he spent a successful loan spell in the 2011/12 season, last summer - believes Neilson was simply attempting to "unsettle" his opponents and match official Craig Thomson. However, the right-back has stressed that at no stage during his lengthy career as a player at Pittodrie did he believe that his side would be disadvantaged as a result of the referee siding with the home team at Ibrox.

"There are times in any one game when you think you're hard done by, but, over the course of the season, for most teams it evens itself out," said Foster. "There are times you get decisions you don't deserve and there are times they go against you - but it's human nature. No-one knows more than me, you make mistakes on the pitch as players. You make mistakes on the pitch as referees. That's what happens in games of football.

"If Hearts play the game within the rules they won't get a man sent off. It's something that has been put out there to try and potentially get into the referee's head. They've got to do everything to win the game and if that's what he thinks he needs to do to win the game then I think we're in a better position."

Foster, though, has no issues whatsoever with Neilson's apparent attempts to gain an edge in what is likely to be a fascinating encounter between two of Scottish football's oldest and fiercest rivals this weekend. The experienced defender has stressed the Rangers players were unperturbed by the remarks from the Hearts head coach and stated that if the Edinburgh side do have a man ordered off then the likelihood is he will have deserved his punishment.

"I'm a great believer that you've got to do whatever it takes to win the game," he said. "Sometimes you've got to bend the rules, sometimes you've got to break the rules. It's all about winning at the end of the day. They'll be going into this season wanting to win and wanting to get back into the Premiership and fair enough.

"I know for a fact behind closed doors he'll be telling his players they are good enough to beat us. He's just putting that out in the press to maybe try and unsettle us, maybe try and unsettle the referee. It won't affect us or his players, but you never know. But if they're not playing within the rules of the game and get a man sent off it won't be the fact there's any kind of bias or prejudice against them it will just be the fact they are not playing within the rules."

Yet the 29-year-old did admit that Thomson will need to be at his very best for a meeting between Hearts and Rangers that is expected to attract a substantial crowd and will be watched at home by a large television audience. "In most games at Ibrox you need a strong referee," said Foster. "We'll have a great support and they're taking a great support. It will be a massive occasion, the start of the season."

Foster started for Rangers in their Petrofac Training Cup first round match with Championship rivals Hibernian at Ibrox on Tuesday night - a game which was decided only after extra time.

The full-back believes the meeting with Hearts on Sunday will be just as demanding, if not more so, than the midweek outing and expects the second tier to be far more difficult to win than League 1 was. "We knew it would be a tough start playing Hibs and Hearts, but you're looking to get the excitement going," he said.

"Winning the other night was a massive boost for us and obviously going into Sunday it will be another tough test. We're under no illusions it's going to be a tough season. Hibs came to Ibrox and played really well, especially at the start of the second half. That did prove there is going to be a bit of a step up in the standard of opposition. But we've shown over the piece we're more than capable of handling that."

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