Craig Fowler looks back at the match at Tynecastle as Hearts tore up the form guide to register a comprehensive victory over Rangers
It’s still to fully click for Hearts
Bt Sport pundit Stephen Craigan, in between spoonfuls of humble pie, was quick to remind viewers that this was only one game. No, in fact, only one half. And that Hearts were going to have to show it more consistently if Ian Cathro’s reign is going to be a success.
His basic point is spot on. Easily beating Rangers is all well and good, but if Hearts lose their next two fixtures then the pressure will be right back on the rookie boss again.
However, he’s wrong to suggest the performance against Mark Warburton’s side was limited to just the second 45 minutes. Having scored very early in the match, Hearts could have been out of sight before Rangers pulled themselves back into the game through Emerson Hyndman.
Prior to the match, Warburton said they didn’t know what to expect from the new-look Hearts side, which was ironic as it was almost a carbon copy of how they went about upsetting Rangers in the last match at Tynecastle: press high up the park, interrupt Rangers’ passing rhythm and knock the centre-backs off their stride.
On so many occasions in the aftermath of the opening goal, prior to the equaliser, Hearts won the ball in high areas where they had supporting numbers equal to, or sometimes greater than, the covering Rangers defenders. In the second half, it all went very smoothly as they played with purpose and efficiency. But in the opening period, there was a hesitancy and indecisiveness and many of these chances went begging without a clear shot on goal even being created.
This Hearts side is still a work in progress. And if this is how they perform under an air of unfamiliarity, how good could they be once it fully clicks?
Esmael Goncalves improves Hearts (without playing to his best)
One such player guilty of sometimes picking the wrong option in the final third was the new £170,000 signing from Anorthosis Famagusta. It’s not a criticism, it’s just the way things are. It’ll take time to get up to speed with the likes of Malaury Martin, Bjorn Johnsen and Jamie Walker, and Arnaud Djoum when he returns from the African Cup of Nations. Although, even without always being on the same page as his team-mates, his presence in the attack led to an improved performance from Cathro’s side.
The risky move of playing a flat 4-4-2 against a side who like to dominate possession paid off in dividends for Hearts with Johnsen and Goncalves setting the tone. The two strikers got into the faces of the opposing centre-halves from the off, and the Rangers duo of Clint Hill and Rob Kiernan never recovered as both endured appalling performances at Tynecastle.
Having the duel presence also really helped Hearts make the ball stick in attack, which was a problem in recent matches against Celtic and even Raith Rovers away in the Scottish Cup. Goncalves has quick feet, a burst of pace and real power in his arsenal. It’s no wonder the Rangers back-line seemed to be distracted throughout.
Going forward, it’ll be interesting to see if Cathro sticks with the Johnsen-Goncalves partnership and allows it to flourish, or whether he’ll alter the system back to a 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1 when Djoum returns.
Rob Kiernan lacks the required concentration
“He’s got all the tools in his locker” is a phrase that could have been created for the Rangers centre-back. He’s strong, quick, can pick a pass or stride out, and is solid in the air. These are qualities you want in any centre back. However, his concentration is often found wanting and this was the case again at Tynecastle.
For the first goal, he repeated his daydreaming from the Scottish Cup scare against Motherwell the weekend before last. With his marker moving slightly toward the back post, Kiernan drifts off him into no-man’s land, allowing a free header from a right-wing cross. Then, at the decisive third goal, he gets caught complaining to the referee about the foul instead of positioning himself in front of the ball so Hearts can’t take a quick free-kick.
The fact that Rangers have gone through the recent transfer window and still have the exact same defence is mind-boggling.
Hearts need more of that from Perry Kitchen
The Hearts captain is one of the first names down on the teamsheet, even though he’s struggled a little at times this season. For a midfielder who plays with composure and shows leadership to encourage and instruct team-mates, he lacks a degree of consistency. Sometimes he’s exactly what Hearts need in the centre of the park; other times he’s too passive and allows play to drift by.
If he can bottle the urgency in which he played against Rangers, fans should see a better Perry Kitchen in the second half of the campaign. He battled his heart out in the engine room and when he did get the ball he showed real confidence to drive forward and make things happen.
Apparently, there’s a need to protect the “asset”
Rangers fans were not happy with the 60th minute substitute of Emerson Hyndman, and it was easy to understand the frustration. The 20-year-old was the away side’s best performer and it only seemed natural he would be left on the park in the hope he could spark an unlikely revival. Instead, Warburton hauled him off, later explaining he was concerned about the player’s well-being and the need to protect his parent club’s asset.
To play devil’s advocate for a second. Hyndman had just played 90 minutes on Saturday and he’s not completely many full games recently, so there’s a very good chance his energy levels would have run low and his performance suffer as a result. Just because he’s been great for 60 minutes, it’s not guaranteed he’s going to be great for the final 30.
That being said, saying there’s a motivation to “look after their asset” of Bournemouth is not going to sit well with Rangers fans. The reason a 3-1 lead (as it was) never feels so comfortable for an opposing team against Rangers is because they’ve made that comeback so many times before. They retain confidence and belief they’ll get themselves out of the hole, and such determination doesn’t normally involve withdrawing one of the star performers with half-an-hour still to go.