Rangers were worthy 3-1 winners in an excellent match against Hearts at Ibrox. The league leaders came to Glasgow looking to prove they were worthy of being considered title challengers. As well as Hearts played, Rangers were the better side and killed the game in the first half. It was a match which required Gerrard’s team to be at their best as Hearts played with strength and pace. Here is an analysis of the game and how it unfolded.
Rangers started with the same starting XI as the Rapid Vienna game, the first time Gerrard has played the same team two matches in a row. Hearts brought Ikpeazu in for Morrison and went with a 4-4-2 shape. This allowed Naismith to start on the left-hand side of the park.
The wind and rain threatened to disrupt the match, as did Hearts who won the toss and changed the sides the players would shoot into the first half. Rangers didn’t let any of that slow them down though and opened the scoring within the first couple of minutes. Kent turned Smith on the touchline and was brought down by Haring as he cut inside. Tavernier took the free-kick, and Hearts tried to step out to play offside. Ikpeazu was a little slow in getting out, playing Morelos onside who took a touch and rolled the ball to Kent. He walked the ball into the net and made it 1-0 to Rangers.
Within seconds of the restart, Hearts had a great chance to equalise. A ball from the left found Naismith in space, and McGregor closed him down to make a good save. On the 5th minute, the high tempo of the match was summed up by chances at both ends. Rangers broke and were unlucky not to create a chance through Kent and Morelos. From the clearance, Ikpeazu used his strength to break into the box. His left-foot shot was brilliantly saved by McGregor to keep Rangers in front.
There was no let-up in the pace of the match. On 8 minutes, Flanagan saw a shot saved after overlapping Kent and getting into the box. Just 3 minutes later, Rangers made it 2-0. A deep cross by Tavernier was half-cleared, and Mitchell took a touch in his own box. Candeias pounced to steal the ball and put in an early cross for Morelos. The striker finished beautifully with a flick which went in at the near post.
Rangers didn’t let up and had two chances within seconds of each other. The first almost fell to Kent, but Zlamal got to the ball first to clear. Just after that, a great pass by Goldson found Arfield going beyond the defence, and under pressure from the goalkeeper, he saw his attempt go high and wide.
Hearts were still trying to create chances, but Rangers were defending well. Worrall threw himself in front of a shot by Lee on 18 minutes. Long throws from Smith were well cleared, with a third consecutive throw finally leading to Rangers getting out of their own box. From a Hearts free kick, Rangers blocked a shot and had a great chance on the counter. Coulibaly broke from his own box and found Candeias with a pass. The winger fed it forward to Kent, who took on the defender and saw a left-foot shot saved from close range.
On 25 minutes, Ikpeazu showed great strength to beat Goldson and drove into the box. Coulibaly got back to rob him of the ball, and the Hearts striker went down easily hoping for a penalty. From the clearance, Hearts played some nice football but a Smith cross was headed high and wide by Ikpeazu.
It almost felt like both sides had to take a breath, but Rangers extended their lead on 31 minutes. A deep cross by Tavernier was met by Morelos at the back post. His header across was knocked into the path of Arfield by the goalkeeper, and the midfielder had an easy finish to make it 3-0.
Both sides had chances, but the half ended with Rangers 3 goals ahead and looking very strong.
Hearts looked to start quickly in the second half. Within 10 seconds, Naismith got free on the left but McLean and Worrall collided in the box and the Hearts striker couldn’t connect with the cross. Olly Lee saw a shot blocked for a corner. Rangers were able to settle, and within 5 minutes of the half, they were in control again.
On the 52nd minute, a cleared Tavernier free-kick was worked to Candeias. His cross was excellent, but Goldson volleyed over from inside the 6-yard box. Only two minutes later, Smith was red-carded, picking up his second yellow card after a deliberate block of Flanagan on the edge of the box.
Ryan Kent had been giving Hearts problems throughout the game. On the 57th minute, he picked up the ball on the left and beat 3 defenders but his shot didn’t beat Zlamal. A minute later, the winger showed great skill to turn his man twice and saw his cutback cleared.
Just after the hour, Rangers hit Hearts on the break. A great ball around the corner from Morelos sent Candeias away. He found Arfield in space, who played it across goal. Morelos had just gone a little early and the ball evaded him as he tried to turn. A couple of minutes later, Rangers moved the ball well with a number of passes, and the move ended with Tavernier having a shot saved by Zlamal.
Hearts scored their goal on the 65th minute. A very deep free-kick was met by Dunne in the box and nodded past McGregor. Rangers tried to restore the 3 goal lead, and Dunne had to head a Candeias shot clear just seconds after the restart.
With an extra man, Rangers had a lot of the ball. They won a number of corners and one of those almost led to an own goal. The energy levels of both sides had dipped, and Rangers weren’t able to counter in the way they had earlier. Despite Hearts throwing everything they had at Rangers, only one chance was really created. Goldson got caught on the ball and Naismith robbed him. Djoum picked the ball up and saw his shot well saved by McGregor from the edge of the box.
The game played out from there with neither side troubling the opposing goalkeeper. The Rangers fans rose to applaud their team after another strong home performance.
This was a high-level match with both sides full of energy and determination. Hearts showed why they’ve made such a good start to the season, and Rangers had to be very good to beat them so convincingly. Hearts came to have a go, playing a 4-4-2 and looking to use the strength of their forwards to hurt Rangers. Conversely, Rangers used some great play in wide areas and on the counter-attack which created a number of chances. The first goal was almost surreal, but after that, the work rate of Rangers caused Hearts real issues. If both sides can keep up the level they showed in this match, they’ll both be competing at the top of the league as the season continues.
McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Worrall, Flanagan, Candeias (Lafferty 86), Arfield (Halliday 83), Coulibaly, Ejaria (Jack 65), Kent, Morelos
SUBS: Foderingham, Ross McCrorie, Katic, Middleton
Zlamal, Smith, Dunne, Souttar, Haring, Lee (Garuccio 72), Djoum, Mitchell (Wighton 78), Naismith, MacLean (Dikamona 56), Ikpeazu
Subs: Doyle, Bozanic, Amankwaa, Morrison