RANGERS showed that the future is bright with a 3-1 win over third-placed Hearts at Tynecastle. Goals from Cedric Itten and youngsters Alex Lowry – involved in all three goals – and Cole McKinnon were enough to brush aside the home side, as Rangers finished the match with what was essentially their B team on the pitch.
Hearts meanwhile face an anxious wait to see if Liam Boyce will make next week’s Scottish Cup final after he picked up an injury.
The visitors started with what was just short of a full second-string side ahead of two cup finals in four days next week. Of the eleven, only Scott Arfield, Aaron Ramsay and Steven Davis are contenders to start versus Eintracht Frankfurt in Wednesday’s Europa League final in Seville. In defence there were starts for Adam Devine and Leon King, while Alex Lowry started in attack, as manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst continued to give minutes to youngsters.
The Hearts side resembled more what may take to the field in the rematch between these sides in next Saturday’s Scottish Cup Final at Hampden. Michael Smith and Cammy Devlin were given first starts after recovering from injury but the side was dealt a blow when, off the ball, Liam Boyce dropped to the turf in the 12th minute and was subsequently replaced by Josh Ginnelly.
Rangers looked the more threatening in the early stages, with Amad Diallo taking a poor touch from Lowry’s pass, when a better one would have seen him in on goal. Later he fired over the bar from the penalty spot when he should have at least tested the keeper. Between those efforts, Arfield became the first to hit the target, though his shot from outside the area was straight at goalkeeper Craig Gordon.
Hearts’ strategy was to try to slid in striker Ellis Simms in at every opportunity and they didn’t allow the injury to disrupt them, taking the lead on 23 minutes. Just when Simms, on loan from Everton, looked to have run down a dead end, he turned and rolled the ball back for Haring. The Austrian quickly adjusted his feet before firing into the far bottom corner, beyond a routed Jon McLaughlin.
The visitors seemed unfazed by the setback, as did their supporters who could be seen continuing to back their side, even as the Austrian celebrated in front of them, and within 10 minutes they were level. Cedric Itten, making a rare start, cut in on the right inside channel but his left-foot strike was diverted over the bar by the legs of Gordon.
From the resulting corner, the unmarked Swiss forward ghosted into the six-yard box where he bulleted in a header, the corner expertly delivered by Lowry.
After that former Ibrox youngster Barrie McKay burst through the centre of the park, and a pack of players, and through on goal. Even McKay seemed surprised with the ease he’d worked the chance but, by the time he reached the box, he’d allowed Leon Balogun to recover.
Just before the break there was another chance for Diallo as he broke into the right channel, but again he put his shot over Gordon’s goal. Then, petty much on the half-time whistle, a counter-attack saw the visitors take the lead.
Lowry was fed by Ramsay down the left, leaving him one on one with Smith. The 18-year-old showed a touch of class to drop a shoulder to deceive the Northern Irish defender before working half a yard and sending a quality low finish past the keeper.
There was a change for each side at half-time, with Nathaniel Atkinson replacing fellow Australian Cammy Devlin and Rangers given another youngster game time, this time for Charlie McCann, who replaced Arfield.
Shortly after a lovely bit of skill from McKay saw the winger tee it up for himself and unleash a fierce volley which dipped just over the bar. Within a minute he had another effort but again failed to hit the target.
The home side were starting to pile on pressure, with Ginnelly in particular looking dangerous. One of his crosses eventually made his way to McKay at the back post but, in keeping with his earlier efforts, his volley ended up in the stand.
A double substitution from the home side then delighted the travelling support, when Andy Halliday and Ibrox-bound John Souttar took to the field. “He’s going to Seville,” sang the Rangers support of Halliday. Souttar, along with Craig Halkett who later came on, are two other Hearts players returning from injury and hoping to play a part at Hampden.
For all Hearts’ possession it was Rangers who looked the more threatening in front of goal. On the 70th minute, second-half substitute Charlie McCann danced into the box but, with the goal at his mercy and seemingly favourite to beat Gordon, he skewed his shot wide and drooped to his knees in despair.
Fellow sub Ross McCausland also had a decent low strike which was comfortably saved by the keeper before yet another Rangers youngster and second-half change ended the match as a contest. Cole McKinnon, making his senior debut, was involved in several parts of another devastating counter-attack, linking with Lowry, then with McCausland before sending a first-time finish into the bottom corner.
The only response from Hearts was an long-range injury-time strike from Toby Sibbick which was comfortably by McLaughlin. It was a frustrating end to a great first season back in the Premiership. For Rangers it was a reminder of the depth they have at their disposal ahead of two cup finals in the coming week.