Disciplined Jambos go down fighting in Govan
Kyle Lafferty and Kris Boyd scored the goals that saw off Hearts, after a spirited display in deepest Govan. No one can claim that Hearts are the finished article, but there is clearly a discipline and steel in the ranks that was non-existent last season. If the attacking options and forward threat can be improved upon, then we have reason to be optimistic about the future.
There was one change from the side that beat Motherwell 3-2 last week - Jamie MacDonald started in goal, replacing player/coach Steve Banks. It was the youngster's first ever start for Hearts and his first appearance since he starred for Queen of the South in last year's Scottish Cup Final...which of course was against Rangers.
Pedro Mendes made his Rangers bow, following his transfer from Portsmouth, and former Hearts striker Andrius Velicka started in attack, alongside Kris Boyd. Madjid Bougherra, another summer recruit, debuted in defence.
It was a spirited beginning from Hearts, Kingston dispossessing Papac in mid-air, and driving forward to hit a fierce shot off Broadfoot. However, at Ibrox you have to be prepared to put up with long periods without the ball, and McCulloch had an early shot at goal following good work from Mendes. Jamie MacDonald gathered comfortably.
The Hearts keeper caught well from Boyd's attempted lob, as Velicka lay injured outside the box. Christophe Berra clearly felt that there had been an infringement in his tussle with Rangers' Lithuanian hitman and made Mr Dougal aware of this, to little effect.
Twenty minutes in and an even encounter had produced no goals. Michael Stewart and Laryea Kingston had some cause for complaint when tussles they were penalised for - Larry going so far as to earn a booking - were not given for them when roles were reversed. Mendes's niggle at Stewart looked especially suspect but Mr Dougal let it go.
Kyle Lafferty pulled up with a strain after 28 minutes, looking likely to be replaced. However, after a lengthy chat on the touchline, whilst play continued, Walter Smith and Ally McCoist sent him back onto the park, presumably in an effort to run his problem off.
Hearts were solid and disciplined, whilst at the other end Davie Weir was using all his experience to frustrate young Jamie Mole. The discipline broke after 37 minutes however, Bougherra getting the better of Wallace down the flank, playing in a low ball that was missed by McCulloch but not Lafferty, whose low drive eluded MacDonald to nestle in the corner of the net. 1-0 Rangers.
The away fans were singing straight from the restart and were roundly jeered by the Ibrox faithful, who were perhaps unable to grasp the concept of supporting your team through thick and thin. Hearts response was measured, Stewart and Kingston combining well to almost find a way through the back four before McGregor stopped them with a quick race from his goal.
Into the second half, there were two examples of great goalkeeping at either end in the space of twenty seconds, firstly from MacDonald who raced from his line and stood up brilliantly to block Boyd who was clean through, and then from McGregor who superbly denied both Driver and Ksanavicius one after the other. It was the little Lithuanian's last contribution in a match where he had the occasional good touch but had been physically outdone by a bigger Rangers midfield. Christian Nade was his replacement.
A misunderstanding between Wallace and Berra allowed Mendes a free run down the right, and his brilliant cross was palmed by MacDonald straight into the path of the onrushing Boyd, who volleyed wide. Shortly after, a basic lapse in concentration from Karipidis let in Beasley who crossed across goal, followed by Velicka making a hash of substitute Miller's cutback. Karipidis atoned for his error by booting the ball away.
Mikoliunas, only just on as a substitute, was immediately booked for diving in what looked to be an incredibly harsh decision by Mr Dougal. It was, in many ways, the easiest decision to make and unsurprisingly earned a roar from the home support. Miko was then sent off for a foul on Miller, a foul admittedly but never a booking. It was, to put it diplomatically, a curious decision. We were willing to give Mr Dougal the benefit of the doubt for his first call but two in a row in such a short space of time? Miko, who left the pitch quickly and earned a sympathetic pat from Csaba, can be forgiven for thinking he is a marked man. Kenny Miller was then not booked for an almost identical foul on Karipidis.
The game was petering out now, and Rangers fans began their traditional dash for the exits. A good period of Hearts pressure was compounded when it appeared that a hand was used to block Andy Driver's goalbound effort. We knew the decision before Mr Dougal's hands themselves waved the claims away.
Mr Dougal was not so quick to wave away a Rangers penalty appeal, when Wallace appeared to bring down Miller, after the striker went on an admittedly fine, weaving run into the box. Boyd slotted home, despite MacDonald guessing the right way.
That was that. Pedro Mendes was ludicrously acclaimed as 'Man of the Match' by the tannoy announcer, and almost to underline our incredulity, the Portuguese then proceeded to pass what should have been a simple ball to Miller right out of play. We hope there is much more similar to come from him.
There is much to be pleased about here. Hearts were disciplined, organised, perhaps still lacking a creative drive, but they were more than a match for Rangers. Csaba ensured that none of his players questioned Mr Dougal as he left the pitch, and the travelling support, who for most of the game were far noisier than the locals, continued to sing for some ten or fifteen minutes after the final whistle.
Csaba promised that no matter what the outcome, all Hearts fans would visibly be able to see the team giving their all. On today's evidence, we have no complaints.
Rangers: McGregor; Broadfoot, Bougherra, Weir, Papac; McCulloch (Miller, 59), Thomson, Mendes, Lafferty (Beasley, 63); Velicka (Darcheville, 82), Boyd. Booked: Thomson. Subs not used: Alexander, Dailly, Furman, Fleck.
Hearts: MacDonald; Thomson, Zaliukas, Berra, Wallace; Kingston (Mikoliunas, 65), Stewart, Karipidis, Driver; Ksanavicius (Nade, 50); Mole (Cesnauskis, 73). Booked: Kingston, Mikoliunas, Wallace. Sent off: Mikoliunas. Subs not used: Kello, Palazuelos, Mikoliunas, Makela, Jonsson.
Referee: Stuart Dougal
Top man: Marius Zaliukas
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