SPFL Preview: Rangers to play Hearts in what could be just an exhibition match

It’s arguable that just about everything is decided in the Top 6 of the Premiership now, but with a few games to go, Hearts may just harbour some very slim hopes of overturning St. Johnstone and snatching that last European spot. Certainly, from our perspective, we’ll be finishing third, and the games from now until the start of the Europa League qualifiers are all pretty much pre-season matches.

As such, I’ve got a mixture of anticipation and dread when it comes to our remaining games. I want to see the younger players we intend on keeping involved but don’t want to lose that record at Ibrox against Aberdeen. I know that said record is largely meaningless when they’re ahead of us in the league, but it would be nice to win all three games to end what has been a frustrating season.

Rangers v Hearts

Our final televised game of the season sees Hearts come to Ibrox, and they’re in pretty poor form. A 2-1 home defeat to Aberdeen, after which their players came out to thank the fans and very few had actually stayed, felt like an end-of-season moment for them, and they’ll have a similar attitude to their remaining games as we do.

Hearts will be without Jamie Walker due to a red card last weekend, and as he’s probably their best player so that certainly weakens them. They’ve been playing a back three of late, with Prince Buaben centre of the three, so if they do that again we may find Garner (who I expect will start) sitting on him to unsettle their defence.

It’s difficult to pick the team for Saturday. No training pictures at the time of writing, nor the press conference to give us any idea of who is definitely available or not. We know that Hyndman is out, but it’s also rumoured that Toral and Hill won’t play again this season. We had three of our Under 20s on the bench on Sunday, and we’ve just announced new contracts for another three, so I’d expect at least a few to be involved in some way. I have a feeling Barjonas may start the game next to Holt, and we’ll have a very young bench. Wilson’s injury last week could leave us short at centre-half, but presuming he makes it, I think we’ll start with:

Foderingham; Tavernier, Bates, Wilson, Beerman; Holt, Barjonas; McKay, Miller, Dodoo; Garner

The only potential change there would be someone for McKay if he’s told the manager he’s intending to leave in the summer. As much as Caixinha seems to like Waghorn work rate, the substitution on Sunday instead of Dodoo also suggests he’ll look at other options over the next few games.

The reaction from Hearts to some serious criticism, especially aimed at their manager, from last weekend, will show their fans just how much their current crop of players actually want to play for Cathro. This game will either have an end-of-season feel between two sides which will be planning on looking very different next season, or will see both teams want to win after some criticism of their performances last weekend. I think we’ll win a pretty boring game 2-0.

Aberdeen v Celtic

This should be an interesting game on Friday night, and some will describe it as a “dress rehearsal” for the cup final (one of the worst sayings in football). Aberdeen will surely be looking to win the game and play a strong team because any sort of dent to Celtic’s confidence right now would be of big benefit to them for that game at Hampden. Brendan Rodgers seems to have kept his squad motivated and playing well despite these league games being meaningless, so they certainly won’t want to give Aberdeen any sort of encouragement.

Friday night games seem to often throw up strange results, but I’d imagine Celtic will be too strong for Aberdeen.

St Johnstone v Partick Thistle

This game should be influenced by our match against Hearts as we have the early kickoff. A win for ourselves will see Thistle given more of a chance to catch Hearts in fifth, and St Johnstone would know they could consolidate the European spot. If we somehow lose the game, St Johnstone will have Hearts breathing down their neck and be desperate for the win. Thistle have dipped a little since getting into the top six, as if their players figured it was job done, and I think they’ll lose this one as well.

What’s your predictions for our game on Saturday? Are you excited by the prospect of some of our youth prospects playing? Tweet us @rangersnewsuk with your thoughts!