Rangers summer recruitment redeemers combine to down Hearts who take solace from returning duo
What might prove a significant night in terms of Steven Naismith’s squad resources ahead of the second half of the season did not yield anything in the way of points against Rangers. Hearts fell to a first league defeat since losing to the same opponents at the end of October.
Indeed, Rangers have now inflicted three defeats on the Gorgie side inside six weeks. The latest was sealed by the prolific Abdallah Sima, who scored his 12th goal of a productive campaign.
It would be tempting to propose that becoming a father last month has stimulated Sima's goal-poaching instincts, but then he was scoring freely before the happy news as well. He and Jack Butland – who made two superb saves here – are redeeming the Ibrox side's otherwise wretched summer recruitment programme.
There’s some solace for Hearts supporters in knowing they won’t encounter Rangers again until February, and who knows, perhaps Craig Gordon and Craig Halkett might be re-established in the Tynecastle side by then.
They returned to the first team pool to great acclaim. Although they both attest to the indomitable spirit of the athlete, Gordon’s appearance on the bench attracted wider interest due to his potential involvement – at the age of 41 – at Euro 2024 next summer.
Both were injured in the same game against Dundee United last Christmas Eve, with Gordon’s leg breaking with such violence that many feared he might not play again.
Current Hearts No 1 Zander Clark is now operating under extreme pressure. A loss of concentration in the second half saw him drop the ball at the feet of Danilo, but Kyosuke Tagawa bailed him out. Clark had already bailed his team out with a brilliant block with his foot from Danilo.
Although an offside decision meant his fine save from Sima with ten minutes left proved redundant, it ought not be disregarded. Clark deserves to keep his place - for now. He even bumped fists with Gordon at half time.
There was as much interest in what was going on off-field than on it, which was just as well. Because the game itself was poor. The first corner arrived after ten forgettable minutes. It was won by Rangers and very nearly led to a goal. For Hearts.
This passage of play summed things up. Ridvan Yilmaz lost possession on the edge of the box and within seconds Shankland was shooting over at the other end, with John Lundstram having done well to scamper back and put him under pressure.
Hearts had to work harder to create their best chance of the opening half. A slick exchange of passes between Shankland and Nat Atkinson near the byline gave the former the chance to shoot from close range. Butland performed heroics to block and then Alex Cochrane, making his 100th Hearts appearance, was denied a goal to mark the occasion by a superb goalline clearance from James Tavernier.
The Rangers skipper had a hand in the winning goal after 34 minutes. It was hardly a defence splitting pass from the right back, although it didn’t have to be. He just curled a ball almost languidly into space, with Hearts fans within their rights to question why quite so much of it had been allowed to yawn open. Sima had both the room and time to slot past Clark, who had advanced a long way from his goal.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.