Hearts enjoyed this but their season will not be defined by Oliver Bozanic’s second-half winner. Avoiding relegation remains their primary focus.
For Rangers, though, unless they go on to win the Europa League or Celtic suffer an unthinkable collapse in the Premiership, this was the day their hopes of silverware faltered.
Defeat in the Scottish Cup quarter-final at Tynecastle means a second successive barren season looms for Steven Gerrard and he will be hurting more than anyone. He was let down by players who didn’t show up and have been notable absentees in too many domestic matches since the turn of the year.
He was also let down by Alfredo Morelos, who had been granted permission to head home to Colombia for personal reasons this week on the understanding he would return on Wednesday. Instead, he arrived back in Glasgow on Thursday evening and was left out of the squad as a consequence.
On top of that the Rangers manager also had to contend with the ineptitude of the referee, Steven McLean, who had a bad day at the office. Gerrard wasn’t the only one infuriated by that, with both teams suffering injustices. But as he picks over the bones of another domestic season that has failed to live up to his high expectations, he will take little consolation from that, acknowledging as most observers will, that the better team on the day booked their place at Hampden.
Rangers did not do themselves justice against a side who have won just nine games in all competitions this term. Four of them have come against lower league opposition but of the remaining five, two have been against Rangers. One of the biggest disappointments for Hearts manager Daniel Stendel will be that they will not face the Ibrox side again this term. It was a significant result for the home side whose form in cup competitions has been the only respite in a season that has taken them to the depths.
The fact they were dealt another blow, just 14 minutes into the game, tested their resolve even further.
John Souttar, who only returned from injury at the start of the year, collapsed in obvious agony and was carried off, with what appears to be a season-ending Achilles tear. It forced Stendel, who had been drilling his defence relentlessly in recent days, to send Clevid Dikamona on. The Hearts rearguard stood firm against a Rangers frontline that posed very little threat and it was the home side who took the game to the visitors.
They looked assured, while the visitors were trying and failing to force things. There was a rashness and a desperation to some of their play, as shown in Ryan Jack’s wild challenge on Michael Smith.
Loic Damour and Bozanic had been installed in the centre of the midfield and both would be key figures in a match that served up incident and recrimination aplenty.
Bozanic’s set-piece delivery almost played in Damour at the back post midway through the first half, while at the other end Ryan Kent fizzed an inviting ball low across the Hearts box but no-one took advantage.
Bozanic then fired in a half volley which Allan McGregor dealt with, Steven Naimsith headed just wide and Jack was also off target.
But it was in the final minute of the first half that things really caught fire. George Edmundson used his arm to deny Naismith and the Hearts captain was furious at the failure of McLean to award a penalty. Then, from the corner, Damour flapped both hands at the ball at the front post and sent the ball beyond a livid McGregor.
As the home fans celebrated the effort was chalked off, enraging the home team, while the away side surrounded the keeper arguing that Damour should be sent off for a second bookable offence.
It was a crazy end to the first 45.
Sixteen minutes into the second half Lewis Moore produced a moment of composure which ultimately won the match. Running on to a through ball, the young Hearts midfielder calmly rounded McGregor and cut the ball back for Bozanic to fire into the net.
This time there was no disputing the goal. There was also no disputing the better team.