This was a strange game, after last week`s fine deserved 2-1 victory over Hibs. Rangers came to Tynecastle having just won the League Cup, but having suffered a last-minute Scottish Cup defeat against Dundee United in midweek. With Celtic in disarray having been thumped 4-0 by a supposedly demoralised St. Mirren, the visiting fans were in celebratory mood as they sensed that the SPL title would be won if their team could register another 4 victories.
Any hopes the Hearts fans had of seeing a 2nd successive home victory were severely reduced after just 5 minutes today, when young Danny Wilson beat Ruben Palazuelos to a free-kick from Kevin Thomson to nod the ball past Jamie McDonald. It was a slightly soft free-kick in the first place – given away by returning captain Marius Zaliukas for a tussle with Kris Boyd. However there is no doubt that Palazuelos was caught napping as the cross came in.
Despite this setback, Hearts started to play some good football, and McGregor saved well from a fierce Gary Glen shot. Glen actually had the ball in the net just before this – placing a nice shot high into the corner – but he was clearly offside when running on to a Palazuelos pass. However Hearts got back on level terms in the 16th minute when a Glen head flick was chased into the box by Suso. Papac should have cleared it, but missed his kick, allowing Suso to hammer a cracking volley past McGregor.
McDonald came to Hearts rescue with 2 great diving saves high to his left (from Davis and Miller), and then a double-save from Boyd and Miller – while at the Gorgie Road end, a good Hearts move ended with Gary Glen sending a shot from 8 yards just over the bar when he should have scored.
Hearts were made to pay for that miss in the 31st minute when Zaliukas clumsily let a simple ball rebound off his foot to the onrushing Davis, whose cross was nodded down by Boyd at the edge of the penalty area to Naismith. He took a couple of strides before belting a fierce shot against the crossbar – and the rebound fell very kindly for Kenny Miller to head into the empty net from 15 yards. A classic case of how good Old Firm strikers can punish you for a simple mistake.
While not reaching the heights of last week, Hearts first half performance had been reasonable considering the quality of opposition – and we hoped for a concerted effort to get an equaliser early in the 2nd half.
Instead, it was the visitors who got the early goal, to effectively kill the game – and again, sloppy defending was largely to blame. Instead of clearing the ball up-field Zaliukas played a weak header straight to Whittaker who cut inside and found the on-rushing Naismith with a simple pass for him to run on to and chip the ball past the diving McDonald. No-one had seen the danger posed by Naismith`s run from the centre circle.
Hearts had a great chance to equalise, when Obua met a Thomson cross perfectly – but his powerful header was straight at McGregor. Shortly after this, Jason Thomson had to leave the field injured, to be replaced by Craig Thomson. Then the Rangers keeper had to stretch to tip a Zaliukas header over the bar from a Kingston corner.
Although the home team were still creating the occasional chance, Rangers players were quick to close down space around Hearts midfielders – and this resulted in a lot of our possession being wasted due to poor control and passing.
The icing on the cake for Rangers came with 15 minutes left when Hearts defence were all at sea, allowing Naismith to nod a free-kick past McDonald.
Hearts were now struggling to make any headway against a very solid Rangers midfield and defence. However substitutes Scott Robinson and David Templeton combined well on a couple of occasions, forcing a save from McGregor and then blazing a shot from 6 yards over the bar.
All 5 goals had involved an obvious mistake from a defender, yet Hearts had made as many chances as Rangers in this match. However with Rangers having 3 quality strikers on the field, any opponent would need to have a red-letter day in front of goal to stand a chance of scoring more goals than the Ibrox team. On another day, this game could have ended 0-0. The 4-1 scoreline slightly flattered the visitors, and I`d say the performance of Gary Glen should be something the fans should take encouragement from. He worked hard, winning several headers and holding the ball up quite well when looking for support.
No 9 ratings this week ?.. but a 7 for Glen and 6`s in the first half for Suso, Thomson and Kingston were how I saw things.
Our remaining pre-split fixtures are St.Mirren (a) and Kilmarnock (h) – how do you see these games going, and what did you make of the performance today ?