On Saturday afternoon, in our last live TV game of the season, we beat Hearts 2-1 in a game of mixed performances.
Rangers starting line-up was as strong and experienced as we’ve played in a number of weeks, and the fact we started the game quickly for the first time in what seems like ages was no coincidence. Both teams were set up to have a go and try to dominate possession, and from a Hearts attack, we broke quickly to score the first goal on six minutes. A good piece of play involving Holt, Tavernier, and Miller found the veteran striker out wide, and his inch-perfect cross was headed back across goal by Joe Garner to make it 1-0. As he landed, Prince Buaben landed on top of him, so he wasn’t able to celebrate the goal as he lay on the turf, and took a few minutes to get back on the pitch as the physio checked him out to ensure he hadn’t injured his shoulder again.
An aspect of our play which was clear in the first half was the way we were asking Windass to get beyond Garner and stretch the defence of Hearts. One such move saw Windass get in behind, be forced wide by the keeper, and once he was turned and looking at his options, he seemed to hit a poor shot rather than stand a ball up at the back post which you’d have fancied Garner to win.
Hearts, despite some very poor form of late, have some good players and were always going to look like they could create chances. Don Cowie forced a save from Foderingham at his near post, and it was only good defending from Bates and Hill which prevented the strong running and physical play of Goncalves and Johnsen from getting more joy. It can be frustrating sitting in the stands listening to criticism of defenders because they don’t win the ball every single time they attempt to, but our back four, in general, stood up well in the entire game to a team of players who are individually good, though not playing well as a team.
The game changed on twenty-six minutes when the running of Windass got him in behind again from a Garner flick-on, and Prince Buaben (who in fairness is a central midfielder playing at centre-half just now) pulled him back to deny a clear goalscoring opportunity. As always, the fans were of the opinion that the referee was being overly harsh to us and lenient to our opponents, but he got his red card out for that foul and we had over two-thirds of the game to play with a man advantage. From the resulting free-kick, we saw something a little different that gave Tavernier a chance from a through ball, but the Hearts defender read it and got the block in.
Unfortunately, as can too often happen to a team in the lead against ten men, we slowed our play down. Hearts set up with two lines of four to be hard to break down for the rest of the half, and we stopped pressing with the same intensity and moved the ball from side-to-side too much. By letting them get set up so easily, it meant the extra player wasn’t being found in areas that could hurt them. Our best chances to extend the lead in the first half came from corners, both played in by McKay from the left – Bates had a header saved well, and Hill hit the post and the resulting scramble couldn’t be turned in.
At the start of the second half, Hearts changed to a back three and went with two up front again in an attempt to change the game. Against ten men, you tend to find the best way to hurt them is wide, finding spaces there quickly, so you hoped that change would allow us to do that. We started the half with intent, but on fifty-one minutes we conceded a goal to a counter attack – another attacking set piece where we sent too many players forward saw Windass try a dummy which didn’t come off and Hearts broke forward. Yet again, Holt was left exposed and couldn’t slow Johnsen down, and the Hearts forward broke clear and had a simple square ball to Goncalves who finished the chance off. It’s the third time in last four games we’ve conceded from a counter of our own set piece, and Caixinha recognised that after the game and suggested it’s annoying him as well.
From their goal, Windass was instantly subbed for Dodoo. I don’t know if that was annoyance at his daft decision, as I certainly never seen Dodoo warming up just before it, but in truth, Windass had dipped in terms of performance since winning the foul that led to the red card and had given the ball away a few times.
Normally, a conceded goal knocks our team for a while, but we managed to get forward straight away and capatalise on a mistake to go 2-1 up in a minute. A poor punch from Noring sent the ball up to be won, and Garner challenged with the Hearts keeper leading to the ball dropping to McKay. A good first-time finish put us back in the lead, and you figured that the game would get back to us dominating and looking to play at a higher tempo to stretch them.
As said earlier though, Hearts have some good players, and they started to find a lot of space in behind our midfield and create a few chances. Foderingham didn’t have a huge amount to do in truth, but that was purely because Bates and Hill defended so well. In response to the way Hearts were finding space, Barjonas was sent on to replace Holt, and Toral dropped a little deeper which meant they couldn’t find the gaps they were so easily.
We had a couple of chances in that spell, with Toral putting one just wide, but too much of our play was in front of Hearts rather than getting in behind, and it led to a lot of long, aimless shots or chances breaking down.
Toral tired, his first game in a few weeks maybe explaining that, and Waghorn was sent on, and to see out the last seventeen minutes of the game we had a midfield pairing of Miller and Barjonas. Halliday not getting on says quite a bit about his position in the squad right now. The best chances to see out the game came from a Hodson cross which Tavernier headed over, and in the last minute of the game where Waghorn worked hard to get through but saw his attempt saved when one-on-one and an option to square it to Dodoo was available.
Overall, it was a decent performance with some signs that Caixinha is getting more from certain players, but we let ourselves play too slowly when Hearts went down to ten, and you could see Caixinha screaming for more from the side which our players were incapable of giving him. It was an end-of-season, nothing-to-play-for type of game in large spells, but there were some positives we could take from it.
My man of the match was Bates, but I could see why Hill was awarded it. Kenny Miler played well in a few positions, and McKay had a definite influence on the game as well.
Line up and Ratings:
1 – Foderingham – 7
2 – Tavernier – 7
27 – Bates – 8
3 – Hill – 8
17 – Hodson – 7
8 – Toral – 6 (Waghorn, 73′ – 4)
23 – Holt – 6 (Barjonas, 67′ – 5)
11 – Windass – 6 (Dodoo, 52′ – 5)
9 – Miller – 8
10 – McKay – 7
7 – Garner – 7
Subs Not Used:
25 – Alnwick
54 – Wilson
16 – Halliday
61 – Beerman