Rangers have beaten Hearts comfortably at Tynecastle this afternoon as Alex Lowry continued to make a strong push for a regular first-team place next season.
With a Europa League final on Wednesday, Gio van Bronckhorst made ten changes to the side that beat Ross County in midweek, handing a first start to Adam Devine and a rare outing to Swiss striker Cedric Itten.
Rangers started the game well, with Alex Lowry making an early impact and influencing proceedings as the Gers’ fringe stars looked to impress.
Hearts star suffers injury blow ahead of Rangers clash as Hampden
Ten minutes in, Hearts’ Liam Boyce had run his race, pulling up as he chased after a ball – leaving the striker sweating over next weekend’s Scottish Cup final.
Just as the opening half reached the halfway point, Hearts took the lead against the run of play when Peter Haring swept the ball home with an excellent finish from outside the area.
Balogun could probably have done a bit better in trying to block Haring’s effort but there wasn’t a huge amount Rangers could do to stop the move before the strike.
Despite going behind, Rangers kept pushing forward looking for a goal and Cedric Itten forced a good save out of Craig Gordon on 30 minutes – with the striker getting on the end of the resulting corner and making it 1-1.
Itten’s late run fooled the Hearts defence and he was left with acres of room to head home from close range and leave Gordon rooted to the spot.
Alex Lowry gives Rangers the lead v Hearts
Shortly before the break, Rangers almost made it 2-1 through Amad after a swift counter-attacking move from the Light Blues.
Scott Arfield’s pass wide found Aaron Ramsey on the right of the Hearts box and his ball inside to Amad was perfectly weighted for the Rangers loanee but he fired narrowly over the bar and into the stand.
The Light Blues did get themselves ahead in stoppage time when Alex Lowry scored his second first-team goal, cutting inside from the left before firing low beyond Gordon and into the bottom corner.
The break saw Charlie McCann come on for Rangers, replacing Scott Arfield in the middle of the park; possibly hinting at a likely role in Seville for the former Canadian international midfielder.
A quiet opening 15 minutes of the second half saw Hearts have a couple of half-chances before Rangers made a raft of changes with Amad, Balogun and Ramsey made their way off for Jack Simpson, Ross McCausland and Cole McKinnon replaced them.
Rangers Academy kids given chance to shine
The changes left Rangers with five teenagers and the 20-year-old Charlie McCann on the pitch as van Bronckhorst put his faith in the club’s Academy stars.
It was a huge show of faith in the likes of McCann, McCausland, Devine and McKinnon – as well as the work being done by Academy director Craig Mulholland and his staff.
McCann even came close to adding his name to the scoresheet with 20 minutes left before Tony Weston was also introduced in the final Gers’ change of the afternoon to make it half a dozen teens in the Rangers side.
There was another positive for Rangers among the substitutes when John Souttar come off the bench for his first action in a couple of months.
With ten minutes left, it was 3-1, Cole McKinnon finishing really well as the Rangers support partied away behind the goal.
McKinnon’s strike prompted chants of ‘you’re getting pumped by the B team’ from the jubilant Gers fans and the future looks bright.
However, that’s for the long-term and now it is on to Seville and the Europa League final.
Rangers: McLaughlin, Amad, Davis, Itten, Ramsey, Sands, Balogun, Arfield, King, Lowry, Devine.
Subs: McCrorie, Simpson, McCann, Ritchie-Hosler, Weston, McCausland, McKinnon, Miller, Fraser.
Hearts: Gordon, Smith, Sibbick, Kingsley, Cochrane, Devlin, Haring, McKay, Mackay-Steven, Simms, Boyce.
Subs: Stewart, Souttar, McEneff, Woodburn, Atkinson, Moore, Halliday, Halkett, Ginnelly.