Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson concedes his side face a tall order in trying to finish any higher than third – but insists they still have a huge role to play in deciding where the Premiership title ends up.
The Gorgie outfit are nine and ten points adrift of Aberdeen and Celtic respectively although they do have a game in hand over the Dons.
Aberdeen have so far kept their Edinburgh counterparts at bay as they bid to catch the Hoops.
But with Hearts, who will bid to register a fourth successive league win when they visit Dundee today, still to face the top two twice before the campaign ends, Neilson admits they will relish playing in games that matter.
Neilson said: “We’d like to get as close as we can.
“It’s going to be very difficult for us to get close to either of them because they’re good teams in good form.
“But we play Aberdeen twice, we play Celtic twice so we’re going to have a big say in where it goes.
“I’m excited to be playing big games. Our last eight or nine games are going to be big.
“We play St Johnstone, Celtic, Inverness and Aberdeen and then we hit the split and the last five, so we are talking about nine games that are against top teams in the country.
“It will be a difficult run in but one we are looking forward to being involved in.
“We have to keep winning and if we do that it keeps that cushion from fourth place and gives us a chance to get as close as we can.”
Aberdeen came from behind on Tuesday to beat Partick Thistle 2-1 and keep up the pressure on Celtic at the summit and Neilson has been impressed by their ability to keep pace.
He added: “They are a good team and last year’s experience has stood them in good stead as well.
“They learned from that and you see them the other night against Partick, maybe last season being 1-0 down they may have got a draw out of it but this year they know they have to win so they go and win the game and if you want to challenge at the top of the league then you have to do that.
“It’s been a great season for us so far but you always want to aim as high as you can get and we have got nine big games ahead of us and they are really important to us.”
Neilson, who revealed injury-plagued striker Soufian El Hassnaoui is facing further time on the sidelines having undergone a groin operation on Thursday, insists how Dundee react to last weekend’s 4-0 Scottish Cup loss at Rangers is a guessing game.
He added: “You go into a match after winning one week and everyone says you are on form, but then you lose a game and everyone says you are hungry going into the next game, but you don’t know until the game starts.
“They have a very good strike force, they have four guys (Kane Hemmings, Greg Stewart, Rory Loy and Gary Harkins) up front who can score goals and they have carried the team throughout the season. We know it will be a difficult game.”