Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Rangers was an opportunity for Heart of Midlothian to show just how far they’ve come under Steven Naismith – but, in the end, the loss showed that there is still work to be done before the Gorgie club can mount a serious challenge for silverware.

This was the second time this season the men in maroon met Philippe Clement’s treble-chasing Rangers in the semi-final of a domestic cup competition, and the second time where Hearts were knocked out at the national stadium. The end result was the same – both occasions ended in a two-goal defeat – but Alan Forrest insists that the team’s progress is clear to see.

The 3-1 defeat in November’s League Cup semi was one of the more dispiriting afternoons for Hearts fans this season. When all was said and done, they had bowed out without really laying a glove on their opponents and it was the manner of the loss, more than the result itself, that truly stung.

Players and fans alike will have been feeling regret once again when the full-time whistle rang out in Mount Florida on Sunday, but for very different reasons. It was hard to escape the feeling that this was a missed opportunity, that Rangers were there for the taking. If November’s defeat was characterised by a reluctance to get forward and ask some questions of the opposition, then Sunday’s was the result of poor decision-making in the final third.

Hearts had the chances to draw themselves level following Cyriel Dessers’ early opener, only for a misplaced pass or lapse in judgement to cause an attacking move to break down before Jack Butland was seriously tested. It is, Forrest says, the greatest frustration from an ultimately disappointing day.

“Yeah, I think so,” Forrest agreed. “It’s one of those games where it’s fine lines. They scored their two goals but we had chances as well and the game could have been different.  I don’t think there was much in it. It wasn’t like they controlled the game or battered us. It was pretty even at times but it’s those fine lines. They got the goals and we didn’t.

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“Rangers are a really good side so when we lose that early goal, it’s difficult. I thought the reaction was good after that. We stayed in the game, created a few chances and kept a hold of the ball for long spells of the game. We were in the game for a while but then they get the second goal and it becomes an uphill battle. We had a chance again at 2-0 so I think we did keep going until the end but it wasn’t meant to be.

“Against every team you play against, it’s kind of the same. You need to take those chances when you’re on top. That can be the difference in these games – especially in these games here [at Hampden] when you are playing the top sides. If we get chances then we need to take them. If you do it turns the game, and that’s what happened for them.”

There will be those who will have met Sunday’s final result with a roll of the eyes and a shrug of the shoulders. Typical Hearts, the thinking goes. Always lying down to Rangers. Do the players even believe they can win?

Such cynicism is understandable, if unwarranted – Hearts have lost all five meetings with Clement’s side this season, after all – but Forrest rails against the notion that there is a shortage of belief among the squad.

“I don’t think that it’s true,” said the 27-year-old. “I think you’ve seen that. Obviously our record against Rangers isn’t great but I think you can see that there was a belief from us. I don’t think we looked like we feared them or anything.

“The record against them isn’t great so maybe people say that, but if you take it on [Sunday] then I don’t think there was any fear. Certainly when we were planning for the game there was no fear there. I think it’s just down to fine margins: they took their chances and unfortunately for us we didn’t.

“I think [there was improvement compared to the League Cup semi-final]. We went toe-to-toe with them for long periods and we could have had a few goals ourselves. That’s maybe the difference and what we need to get to, but I think the belief is there. It’s just about taking those chances and that is the difference. If you want to progress to the cup final, you need to take those chances – and Rangers did that.”

There is, of course, one final opportunity to set the record straight against Rangers before the end of the campaign. Clement’s men travel to Tynecastle Park on the final day of the league season and although the game could well be a dead rubber for Hearts – a win at Rugby Park this Saturday will confirm third place for Naismith’s side – Forrest is adamant that he and his team-mates will not be short of motivation.

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“Definitely,” Forrest concurred. “We have still got something to play for just now so it’s one we will prepare for in the same way. We will treat every game the same, no matter if our position in the league is set. That doesn’t change anything.

“We will go until the end of the season and we have got Rangers on the last day of the season, so that will be no different. We have got a good group in there and I think all the boys will be right up for it.”