Andy Harrow looks back on what turned out to be a comfortable win for Steven Gerrard’s men against Hearts at Tynecastle on Saturday afternoon.
Hearts’ happy memories have faded already
Remember last Saturday when Hearts scored three goals to reach the Scottish Cup final? Remember that, Hearts fans? It was fun, right?
Well, probably best to savour how it felt, because the remainder of the season might be a massive disappointment.
Hearts were abject at Tynecastle against Rangers. The tenuous positivity created by last weekend’s performance - and the hope that it might lead to something even better in the final in May - collapsed as soon as Jermain Defoe’s opener hit the net.
Hearts were poor beforehand - too passive, too slow, too easy to play through - but the goal killed any hope the home side had of playing their way into the game.
It shouldn’t have been possible for Hearts to perform this badly and, crucially, this limply, so soon after the semi-final, but they did. Despite progressing to the final, something appears broken at Tynecastle. Don’t put any money on it being fixed before the season is out.
Rangers aim to finish the season strongly
Rangers’ end to the season might be short of drama - even before Saturday they looked like securing second place in the league - but Steven Gerrard’s men gave no sense that they were winding down for the campaign at Tynecastle.
From the off, they snapped into challenges against a lethargic Hearts and it was from quick pressing in the centre of the pitch that they fashioned their first two goals. First, Jon Flanagan won a ball near the centre circle before Glen Kamara released Defoe, then Daniel Candeias pounced on a loose ball from Oliver Bozanic and sent Ryan Jack through to double Rangers’ lead.
It was only in the final 20 minutes, with Rangers three ahead, that they began to ease off the pace. Until then, the visitors had looked hungry to punish the sloppy home side as thoroughly as possible.
In lieu on any trophies, Gerrard will be keen to show his employers that his side are finishing the campaign strongly. The evidence from Saturday is that they are.
Celtic have to wait until next weekend to win the title
Had Rangers dropped points at Tynecastle, Celtic could have been crowned champions tomorrow afternoon at Easter Road. Neil Lennon, you suspect, might not be too disappointed that they’ve got to wait another week. After all, they can now win the title in front of their own fans at Parkhead against Kilmarnock rather than in Edinburgh.
The destination of the trophy is, of course, a formality but there’s something to be said for strolling over the line at home, where preparations for a party can be put in place. It might also do Lennon no harm if, with the Scottish Cup final on the horizon, his team have another competitive fixture to play beforehand.
Craig Wighton remains an enigma
Craig Wighton didn’t expect to start against Rangers. His last appearance was against the same opponents at Ibrox in early April where he started as a lone forward, but brought in as a late replacement for Sean Clare at Tynecastle, he was deployed in behind Uche Ikpeazu.
For any Hearts fan who witnessed both performances, they’d be forgiven for wondering if there is any position within the starting line-up which suits the youngster.
The forward has made 13 appearances for the Jambos and has yet to find the back of the net. He has a decent first touch but he lacks the physicality to challenge centre halves and hasn’t shown the same composure in the penalty box as someone like Ryan Hardie, who is possessed of a similar stature.
Realistically, his best chance to succeed at Hearts is as a number ten, supporting the central striker and finding gaps in defences. He did manage to find some space from a deeper position - and had the best two chances for Hearts prior to the goal - but against Rangers he was often so deep he left Ikpeazu isolated.
Wighton’s most significant moment continues to be the goal he scored for Dundee which resigned their neighbours from Tannadice to relegation, but that was way back in 2016. He will need to create some more memorable moments next season if he’s to remain in Hearts fans’ memories.