PAULO SERGIO refused to comment on this match out of respect for Rangers’ troubles. He didn’t actually need to say anything. Rangers “don’t do walking away” but Hearts walked off with all three points and their first victory at Ibrox in almost eight years. All the talking was done on the field.
The Hearts manager addressed the media for less than a minute in the bowels of Ibrox after watching his team fashion an inspired 2-1 win. He refused to take questions, not wishing to be seen as gloating as the administrators’ axe prepares to swing into action. Outside, supporters from Edinburgh celebrated as night fell. They certainly had plenty to say.
Rangers may be in administration and facing a massive squad cull to reduce costs, but Ibrox is a venue where Hearts had won just once since the 1996 hat-trick of Allan Johnston. That statistic underlined the difficulty of this task. For many of the intervening years, they visited Govan and abandoned hope upon losing the first goal. This time they utilised deep reserves of character and strength to overhaul a 1-0 interval deficit and leave with a dramatic victory.
When Steven Davis stroked Andy Little’s cross beneath Jamie MacDonald right on half-time, it seemed like a familiar story unfolding for Hearts. However, this time there would be a different ending. When Ian Black lashed a stupendous 20-yarder into the top corner on 58 minutes, belief took hold within the visiting camp. With Craig Beattie impressing as a half-time substitute, Hearts sensed their opponents were increasingly vulnerable. They continued pressing forward in stages and earned their reward when Doran Goian was penalised for obstructing Andy Webster at a corner kick. Allan McGregor saved the resultant penalty from Jamie Hamill, who then converted the rebound from close range to decide the match.
Rangers protested about the penalty’s validity, however Goian’s obstruction of Webster was clear. Sergio commendably refused to gloat. His team had expressed themselves perfectly, finding a timely juncture to dispense with a five-match winless run in the Scottish Premier League. Even without administration, many in the Rangers side looked like their time was up. Resolve was glaringly absent during the second half as Hearts pressed forward and asked questions of the home defence.
“I will be very short,” said Sergio. “I’m very happy with the result, not because it’s against Rangers or because it’s at Ibrox but because we didn’t win our last five games in the league. I don’t want to speak about the game as a sign of respect from all my team to the Rangers professionals because of the problems they have. I will leave the thoughts about the match for you.”
Black was more expansive. He took an anaesthetic injection to play with injured ribs and finished Hearts’ best player. Closely behind him were Andy Driver, whose cross led to Black’s raking equaliser, and the dominant Webster. The midfielder was particularly pleased with his stunning equaliser having been roundly jeered by the home support, who won’t forgive him for injuring Nikica Jelavic last season.
“To be honest, I quite enjoy it,” he said. “That sort of thing shows you’re getting noticed and it helps. With them giving me a bit of stick, then it made it a little bit sweeter when I scored. It stretches back to the Jelavic thing but you’ve just got to be mature and get on with it and concentrate on playing. I probably get abuse at ten stadiums out of all the SPL. It doesn’t faze me, I just deal with it and get on with the game. The only place I don’t get abuse is Tynecastle.
“The atmosphere was great. It’s always great at Ibrox because the fans are always behind their team. Our supporters were outstanding too but you don’t fear Rangers and Celtic now. If you don’t believe, what’s the point in playing? You need to go to every ground and believe you’re going to win or there’s no point stepping on to the park.
“This is a great result. We knew we had to work hard because we hadn’t won in our last six games. Rangers are strong, they’ve got great ability throughout and it takes a lot to beat them. We worked hard and deserved the win. If we don’t get the praise [because of the problems Rangers have] we know ourselves we worked hard and deserved it.”
Surprisingly, Black felt his goal wasn’t the best of his career. “I’ve scored a better goal than that but it’s nice to come to a place like this and score. As soon as I hit it I knew it might go in because I saw their keeper a few yards off his line. I took an injection before the game to help me out and I started to tire and feel it towards the end. I was always going to put myself forward to play and I’m glad I did. I was surprised when the penalty was given, I didn’t know what it was for. We needed a bit of luck and we got it.”
The turn in the game was influenced heavily by the half-time introduction of Craig Beattie, making his Hearts debut. He replaced Darren Barr, who filled an unorthodox holding midfield role in the first period. Sergio paired Beattie with lone striker Gary Glen for the second half and the 4-4-2 formation overhauled the 1-0 deficit.
“I can’t believe I’m sitting here after a 2-1 defeat,” said Ally McCoist, the beleaguered Rangers manager. “We don’t have our troubles to seek but I’m staggered we got beat 2-1.” In reference to the penalty award, he added: “I don’t talk about refereeing decisions, I can’t do anything. All I would say is I thought it was a questionable decision.
“The defeat doesn’t help morale and we are wounded at this moment in time. There’s one or two people out there enjoying it, maybe one or two having a fly kick. I would suggest they have a right good kick just now because we won’t be where we are for a long time.”
As Rangers licked their wounds, Hearts returned to Edinburgh having put the curse of Ibrox to bed. It may be some time before the Govan venue carries the same level of intimidation again.