Rangers impressed in a 2-0 win over Hearts at Ibrox on Saturday. Goals from Jamie Murphy and Russell Martin meant that recent momentum was maintained. Hearts struggled to apply any concerted pressure, and Rangers could have scored far more goals with their entertaining, dynamic forward play. In a match where a win was vital, Rangers were impressive.
Graeme Murty made the decision to start the game with the same team that beat Hamilton. This was despite Jason Holt and Bruno Alves being available for selection. For Hearts, they changed to a back 5, bringing in Aaron Hughes to play next to Berra and Souttar in central defence. Lafferty was used as the out-ball up front as they looked to make things difficult and hit Rangers on the break.
Rangers started the match with a real attacking purpose. Crosses and shots were being blocked, and they forced decent saves from McLaughlin in the Hearts goal. The first of those was from Goss, who struck the ball well from 25 yards, but saw it pushed over. The second save was more impressive, as McLaughlin pushed out a Docherty left foot shot from just outside the area, and was able to smother the Morelos attempt at the rebound.
Hearts took over 15 minutes to make any sort of chance of their own. Kyle Lafferty found some space, and tried to curl a shot into the far corner. Foderingham got up to his left to save well. A few minutes later, Callachan looked to beat Foderingham with a similar effort, but again the goalkeeper was equal to it.
Despite a few nervy moments with set pieces, those were the only chances Hearts created in the first half. From around 20 minutes until the half time whistle, Rangers were completely dominant. Chances were being squandered, as Windass hit a shot well over, Morelos missed a chance with a header, and Murphy dragged a shot just wide. Good crosses from Tavernier and Candeias were either being defended well, or just not quite met by the Rangers forwards. Despite impressive counter attacking pace, the final ball just wasn’t there.
That all changed on the 41st minute as Rangers took the lead. Candeias was slowed up on the right, and couldn’t get a cross away. He won a throw in, which was taken quickly back to Goss. He found Tavernier in some space, and the full back played a nice ball into Docherty around 25 yards out. With everyone expecting the shot, Murphy made a great run inside the defender, and Docherty found him with a perfect pass. Murphy then ran across goal, beating 2 defenders and the goalkeeper, before opening his body and slotting the ball home. The movement, passing and composure shown by the players was impressive, and the lead more than deserved.
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Going in with the lead at half time, the fans hoped that the team could show the same intensity after the break. It took less than a minute to suggest that they would. Morelos got the ball with his back to goal on the halfway line, and spotted a great run by Candeias. The ball over the top was just a little heavy for the winger, and the Hearts goalkeeper was able to clear. However, it was clear Rangers wouldn’t be sitting back on a one goal lead.
The next chance fell to Windass, after good play by Morelos on the left. He drove at the Hearts defence, and cut the ball across the box. Candeias made a great run near post to drag defenders out of position, and Windass met the ball on the run. His first time effort was poor though, and went over the bar.
Greg Docherty was next to draw a save from the keeper, with his shot parried out and the rebound from Morelos blocked. Hearts were struggling to get out of their own half. One of the rare forays forward almost led to a Rangers goal.
A Hearts corner was cleared, and Daniel Candeias made some space to run with the ball from his own box. He was joined by Windass as they got through 2v1 on Smith, and Candeias timed his ball across perfectly for Windass. The on-form forward was having a poor match, though, and his left-foot shot was well saved by McLaughlin.
At around 70 minutes, Morelos had a good effort from the edge of the box saved by McLaughlin. A few minutes later, Bates was unlucky not to score with a header from a Tavernier free kick. Around this time in the match, Steven Naismith was introduced, and predictably met with plenty of criticism from the home support.
It was Naismith who almost provided what would have been a body blow to Rangers. Demetri Mitchell done well to beat a couple of players and cut the ball across. Russell Martin got there first, but his clearance hit Naismith, and the rebound went a yard or so wide with Foderingham scrambling.
It may have been expected that nerves would kick in, but Rangers got back on the front foot looking to kill the game. Jamie Murphy was found by some good play from Holt, and his shot was saved at the end of a driving run. A free kick on the edge of the box from Windass was well saved by the goalkeeper as well, with only a few minutes remaining.
Finally, Rangers got the second goal they more than deserved. A set piece was cleared, and picked up by Tavernier on the right. He showed composure to cut inside and play in Candeias down the line. The low cross from the Portuguese winger just evaded Cummings at the near post, but it went through the defence to be met by Martin for a tap in. With only a minute or so remaining of the 90 minutes, Rangers had made the game safe.
Despite only 2 minutes of injury time, Rangers forced another great save from McLaughlin. Sean Goss hit a dipping shot from 30 yards which the keeper done brilliantly to save, and the players following in were offside. The final whistle went just moments later, and the fans celebrated a good win and strong performance.
This was a match that was both keenly anticipated and somewhat feared. The home form of Rangers this season meant that the fans were nervous, but the players played with a real confidence. Hearts clearly set up to be difficult to beat, but only through their goalkeeper were they able to keep the score down. Murty made the decision to keep Docherty in the team, and it was proven to be a good move as the young midfielder was excellent. A little tactical tweak early in the game meant that Candeias was asked to play higher up the pitch, and his pressing was a real driving factor in the performance. Josh Windass and Alfredo Morelos struggled somewhat, but never went hiding, despite missed chances and loose passes.
Rangers will now go into the game against St Johnstone on Tuesday night with some real confidence, hoping to put pressure on Celtic in the title race.
TEAM LINE UPS
Foderingham; Tavernier, Martin, Bates, John; Docherty, (Holt, 83) Goss; Candeias, Windass, Murphy; Morelos (Cummings, 73).
SUBS NOT USED: Alnwick, Miller, Herrera, Halliday, Alves.
McLaughlin, Smith, Souttar, Hughes, Berra, Lafferty, Callachan, Mitchell, Henderson (McDonald 60), Cochrane (Naismith, 73), Adao, Buaben.
SUBS NOT USED: Hamilton, Randall, Godinho, Irving.