THE indifferent form that cost Rangers two points against Dundee United contributed to the team’s downfall at Tynecastle on Saturday, when a battling Hearts side won at home in the Premier Division for the first time since 20 August.
Hearts 2-0 Rangers
The Scotsman, 12 December 1988
Even though Hearts were without the dismissed Mike Galloway for the best part of an hour – Mark Walters of Rangers was also shown the red card 15 minutes from the end of a recklessly physical match, eccentrically refereed by David Syme – the league leaders were able to make little of their numerical advantage.
Walters and Kevin Drinkell were largely anonymous in attack and Rangers only looked like scoring from set-pieces. An angled John Brown header from a Davie Cooper free kick in the first half and a Terry Butcher header from another Cooper free kick in the second half were just about the most threatening moves Rangers could muster in what was a thoroughly uninspired showing in front of goal.
Mark you, Graeme Souness, the Rangers manager, was less inclined to bemoan the absence of the injured Ally McCoist as an explanation for Rangers’ form slump as the shoddy defending which has seen his side’s lead at the top of the table drop to two points.
While it goes without saying that injuries have contributed to Rangers’ problems in recent weeks, Souness would not accept that as an excuse for a run which has seen the early pace-setters lose three of their last six league games.
John Robertson, on his return to Scottish football, made the valid point that, while Rangers enjoyed the lion’s share of possession during the spell when Hearts were a man short, they were unable to turn that territorial advantage into clear-cut chances.
Much the same story unfolded against United the previous week when the Rangers attack lacked the pace and inventiveness which characterised the side’s play during the autumn.
As a consequence, a Hearts side that had conceded eight goals to Rangers in three previous meetings this season were able to keep a clean sheet with hardly a care.
The purchase of Robertson and Tosh McKinlay for the best part of £1million meant that Hearts went into the game with their strongest side of the season. The 26,000 Tynecastle crowd, hitherto in understandably subdued mood this term, came back to vociferous life and helped to breathe fresh spirit into a side quite unrecognisable from the one that had previously managed to defeat only Hamilton in four months of league activity.
“It was a marvellous end to a great week,” enthused Alex MacDonald, who had spent a million pounds on new players, guided his team into the last eight of the Uefa Cup and topped things off with a morale-boosting victory over Rangers.
But with 45 players booked and two players ordered off this season, Hearts will need to do something about their disciplinary record if suspensions are not to damage their hopes of a league revival. Saturday’s game was a torrid affair in which Galloway was foolishly booked for dissent before committing a rash, late goalmouth challenge on Richard Gough (the international defender, incidentally, sportingly got to his feet the instant after the tackle was committed).
Nonetheless, Galloway was ordered off to blot his copybook in a week in which he had continued his scoring run in Europe against Mostar and struck his first league goal against Rangers.
The move was conjured up by Robertson and Kidd wide on the right before the full-back aimed a left-foot cross to the near post. Gough cleared under pressure from Colquhoun but only as far as Galloway, who sent the ball bouncing into the net with a drive angled into the ground.
Hearts wrapped up the points with a goal gifted by Nicky Walker to Iain Ferguson, who had come on as a replacement for Robertson. The goalkeeper was unable to hold a firm passback from Butcher and Ferguson stepped in to score one of the simplest goals of his career.
It was an extraordinary goal for Rangers to concede, and summed up a miserable afternoon for the league leaders in which few players earned passmarks for their individual efforts and the overall team performance slipped below the standard set by Souness. Walters got himself ordered off for needless fouls on Whittaker and Kidd and, like Galloway, will automatically miss Saturday’s match.
Hearts: Smith, Kidd, McKinlay, McPherson, Whittaker, Berry, Galloway, Mackay, Colquhoun, Black, Robertson.
Rangers: Walker, Stevens, Brown, Gough, Williams, Butcher, Drinkell, Ferguson, Cooper, MacDonald, Walters. Attendance: 26,424. Referee: D Syme.