Neil Alexander hailed his team-mates, as Hearts held firm to earn a crucial victory over Livingston on Saturday to extend their lead at the top of the Scottish Championship.
The Jambos sit twenty points clear of second-placed Hibs - whose victory over Rangers caused the teams to switch positions - thanks to Jamie Walker’s first-half strike in a difficult match with the West Lothian outfit.
During the post-match cool down, the experienced 'keeper admitted the side had felt the pressure to get the win following the Hibees’ win over the Gers the night before, but praised the young charges in the team for staying firm in the face of a physical Livingston threat.
“There was definitely pressure on us,” said Alexander. “When your rivals drop points it’s important that you pick up maximum points. But I don’t think we let it affect us. You could feel the nerves out there, I thought we handled it really well.
“If we have to win ugly we have to do that, it’s a battle. I thought we played in patches but it was untidy at times. At the end of the season when we look back we’ll say that was a tough game and a great three points.
“People forget we have a very young squad and there is a lot of pressure put on those young boys week-in, week-out and they’ve handled it fantastically well. The expectation is there and we’ve set that high standard ourselves.”
Goalscorer Walker also referenced the expectation felt by the players from the supporters, as well as the coaching staff, and that expectation led to some restlessness in the stands as the Jambos struggled to break down a dogged Lions defence.
“We have to live up to that [expectation] and if we don’t, the fans give us a wee bit of stick,” the goalkeeping coach continued. “But the boys can handle that no problems. The fans are fantastic and get behind us at the right time.
“They’ve been phenomenal this season from minute one, from where the club was at the end of last season to now, it’s a phenomenal story.”
Lastly, Neil conceded he was surprised to see Hearts lead the table by such an impressive margin, but stated that he felt the dominance shown by the team was a credit to the squad, and had nothing to do with any issues off-field at other clubs, least of all one of his former clubs.
Pre-season title favourites Rangers slipped to third in the table following their Ibrox defeat to Hibs, but Alexander admitted he still saw the reigning Scottish League One champions as their biggest threat, thanks in part to their three games in hand over Hearts.
“Hibs are there and I’m not going to disrespect Hibs but I definitely still see Rangers as our rivals, I don’t think you can ever discount Rangers.
“I said at the start of the season that I thought Rangers would be favourites and I thought they would walk it, due to the experience and quality in their squad.
"I thought the play-offs would be our best chance but credit to us, Robbie, the coaching staff and the players for what we’ve done. We're not champions yet, but we know it's in our hands.
“We aren't leading because Rangers have had a bad season, we’re there because we deserve to be there. The table does not lie, and I’m really enjoying my football. It’s given me a new lease of life.
“I loved playing for Rangers, and I really valued my time there but with the way this season has gone, maybe things have fallen right for me.”