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Hearts defender insists splitting Rangers & Celtic should be target for Jambos

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MICHAEL SMITH insists Hearts should set their sights on splitting the Old Firm this season as they build ‘something special’.

The Northern Ireland internationalist has become the fourth leading player to agree a new deal after signing a one-year extension that keeps him at Tynecastle until summer 2023.

The dependable full-back follows on from fellow defenders Craig Halkett and Stephen Kingsley in penning fresh terms this week, with skipper Craig Gordon having got the ball rolling by committing his future to the club on Hogmanay.

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The boardroom business backs the work being carried out by Robbie Neilson and provides the manager with consistency beyond the current campaign.

However, whilst long-term stability is crucial, Smith is determined there will be no complacency this term as the Jambos seek to capitalise on the impressive form that sees them sit third in the Premiership table and in pole position for European qualification.

The Gorgie men are currently nine points adrift of Celtic in second, but have only suffered one more league defeat than the Hoops, and Smith is convinced they should aim high in the second half of the season.

The 33-year-old said: “We’re doing ever so well this season and we want to continue that. We’re building a great squad and we’ve added a few and signed a few contract extensions.

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“It’s great and we’re building something special.

“This is definitely the best squad I’ve been involved in. We’ve brought in wisely, we’ve brought in good quality and not just numbers.

“The competitiveness in the squad is great and everyone plays their part. It must be tough for the gaffer to make decisions on who plays, but I suppose that’s a good thing to have in a squad.

“It’s things like that [that’s behind] why we’re doing so well.

“We spoke in the summer before the season started. We were just newly promoted but we’re a massive club, and we should be in Europe.

“That’s still the goal, so hopefully we can stay in third place – or even kick on and push for the top two.

“I’d love to get the club into Europe and challenge for top three every year – just get the club back to where it should be.

“We’ve had a few up-and-down years but it’s great to get some stability back, and I think under the gaffer, and Joe [Savage, sporting director] and the coaches, we’re starting to build that, and hopefully I can be a part of it.”

Smith has revealed he had a clause in his contract that would likely have seen him offered a new deal anyway.

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But he admits there was no hesitation when Hearts pre-empted that by tabling fresh terms.

He added: “Ever since I came to Hearts, I’ve probably played the best football of my career. It got me into the international squad and I’ve really enjoyed my time here.

“I’m settled here with my family, so it was an easy decision.

“It’s been a good fit for me. I enjoy it here and I love everything about it, so it’s great to extend my contract again.

“I think we’re building something special here and I want to be a part of that and see where we go.”

Smith has made 158 appearances for the club since joining in 2017 and is a key member of Neilson’s plans.

The Hearts boss said: “I’m really pleased that we’ve got Michael tied down for another season.

“He’s a top player, an international-standard defender, and his versatility makes him a tremendous asset for us.

“I know he’ll help drive us on to our goal of challenging at the top end of the league and for European football.”

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