Rangers 2-0 Hearts: Mendes helps lift the gloom
Rangers 2 Lafferty 38, Boyd 90 Hearts 0
SIX points from a possible six and around 6m worth of players on the way. Reports of Rangers' post-Kaunas, post-Carlos Cuellar demise may have been greatly exaggerated. Yesterday's hard, but deserved victory over Hearts, meanwhile, suggests predictions that the Tynecastle club are bound for bends-inducing upward trajectory may have been premature.
Rangers were better than their visitors in all the areas they required to be. Debutant Pedro Mendes was the fulcrum, demonstrating a terrific range of passing to prove the dominant figure in midfield and Kyle Lafferty produced the crucial 38th-minute finish that the Tynecastle side never looked capable of cancelling out before Lee Wallace chopped down Kenny Miller at the death and Kris Boyd converted to make it 2-0.
Hearts will grumble about what happened between the loss of the first and second goal, in particular the red card given to substitute Saulius Mikoliunas, who lasted all of eight minutes after replacing Andrew Driver in the 65th minute. Inside three minutes, referee Stuart Dougal proved his crowd-pleasing best by dishing out a yellow card for simulation to the Lithuanian after he went to ground evading Sasa Papac.
It was questionable whether he dived or not, but others had in the game without receiving cautions, a luxury denied to Mikoliunas because of the reputation that proceeds him. Having had his name taken, the attacker was downright stupid to over-commit going into a challenge on Miller, and technically there was no debate over his second booking. With Mikoliunas' exit went Hearts' prospects of salvaging a point.
They did, however, claim for a penalty when the ball bounced up in front of Madjid Bougherra's face and struck his hand in the closing minutes. It wouldn't have been an unjust penalty award but, equally, it is easy to see why it wasn't given.
The encounter was watched by American midfielder Maurice Edu and he is expected to sign a 2.5m deal imminently, with a 3m move for Steven Davis also set to be completed with Fulham inside the next 24 hours. Suddenly, Monday night, when Cuellar was sold and Rangers supporters called for revolution, seems an age ago.
The Ibrox club's first home Scottish Premier League game was an occasion with all the elements to prove a real tone setter for each of the combatants, and was contested as if the season depended on the outcome. As an introduction to Scottish football for Mendes, Rangers' 3m acquisition from Portsmouth in midweek, it was our national game in its rawest form. The compact, crafted Portuguese began by attempting to spark some incisive forward play with dainty runs, and one-twos in an around the box. Pretty soon, though, he was giving it welly just like the players around him.
It was an afternoon when players looked to put their foot through the ball rather than wrap a boot around it. And when the ball wasn't there to be swiped, often an opponents contesting possession in the vicinity would do. It was compelling stuff, with Csaba Lazlo, in his first visit to Ibrox as Hearts coach, certainly arriving with a game plan. Part of it involved his players being as animated as he is in the technical area, but there was also a studied intent in his 4-2-3-1 configuration against a Rangers set-up in their, now orthodox, 4-4-2.
Lazlo's confidence in a squad which had thrilled in securing an opening day 3-2 win over Motherwell, extended to a player who did not contribute to that victory. Scotland under-21 keeper Jamie McDonald was handed a debut with Steve Banks, who started last week and is the club's goalkeeping coach, mysteriously failing even travel with the team. The earliest sign of a Vladimir Romanov team suggestion, perchance? If the owner wanted more productive involvement, he might have relayed word to Andrew Driver to do more hug the touchline wide of a three behind Jamie Mole, a position that rendered him ineffectual.
Rangers, through having more bodies willing to forage in central midfield, threatened to get on top of their visitors on the rare instances it seemed as if something would give at either end. After only five minutes, Andrius Velicka clattered into a challenge to flick the ball to Kris Boyd in front of goal. In attempting a too-delicate chip, the striker allowed the exposed McDonald to pluck the ball from the air.
Neither keeper was then tested until Hearts' man between the sticks was left helpless by the raking drive with which Lafferty opened the scoring. Lee Wallace's part in the pivotal passage of play across the afternoon will not have pleased Csaba, with the full-back allowing the impressive Madjid Bougherra to thunder past him before cutting the ball back inside. It arrived at Lafferty only after a fresh air shot from Lee McCulloch but the Northern Ireland internationalist was not distracted and he slammed the ball low into the left-hand corner.
In the second half, Hearts became untidy as Rangers grew in strength, with DeMarcus Beasley, on for hamstring-troubled Lafferty, carving open the visitors backline before being unable to apply the finish, as befell Boyd when through on goal. It was just like old times as a confident Rangers powered their way to victory towards the close. Their league challenge is a real one.
DAVIS TO SIGN
Walter Smith is confident of completing the permanent signing of Steven Davis after agreeing a fee with Fulham.
Rangers are set to pay around 3m for the Northern Ireland international midfielder.
"We've reached agreement with Fulham and the player's representatives," said Smith. "After we've sat down with Steven, hopefully that will go through."
MAN OF THE MATCH
Pedro Mendes filled the creative black hole left by the absence of Barry Ferguson with aplomb.
A "silent" protest of 2,000 fans at 2pm ended abruptly when a car containing new signing Maurice Edu made its way down Edmiston Drive, causing the assembled masses to break into cheers.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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