Ahead of the fixture there were plenty of people, this writer included, who believed Giovanni van Bronckhorst would or certainly should choose Alfredo Morelos ahead of Antonio Colak. The Colombian has had a difficult season so far but if there was one place which could bring out the best in him, it would be Tynecastle Park. Especially against a Hearts defence, shorn of Craig Halkett, which was set to feature young centre-back Lewis Neilson and Stephen Kingsely.
Van Bronckhorst to his ultimate credit stuck with Colak. The Croatian after all has been on red hot form this season. And that continued with two excellent goals. It was a superb striker display. His first goal saw him react quickest to a loose ball in midfield before exploiting the space left by Kingsely to head the ball past Craig Gordon via the post from a brilliant Ryan Kent cross. The second was a fine piece of movement and patience. He used Kingsley to stay on side as he curved his run in behind centre-back. Rather than take his shot too early he actually took a step more than most other strikers would to give him a better angle to lift the ball past Gordon and into the other corner.
He leads the league with eight goals from an xG of 3.6. He averages 4.1 shots per 90 with a conversion rate of 22.2 per cent. He is an efficient goal scorer. The type both Celtic and Rangers should have in their armoury, especially for league games.
But what was nearly as impressive was his work outside of the box. He occupied both centre-backs, won three of four aerial duels and linked play effectively to help give Rangers counter-attacking opportunities which were passed up.
Morelos, of course, came off the bench to score his tenth goal against Hearts but Colak delivered a very strong message to show he is more than just a goal scorer. It should be noted, being just a goal scorer is no bad thing.
Hearts big hitters fail to deliver – but one positive surprise
Stephen Kingsley and Barrie McKay are two of Hearts’ most important players. Saturday afternoon wasn’t the time for them to have off days. For the former, it was arguably his worst performance in a maroon jersey. Such has been his consistency, his reliability and quality, he constantly matches or exceeds fan expectations. This was one of those days where nothing seemed to go right. It was best summed up when he awkwardly dealt with a long ball which he appeared to lose in the sun. He ended up rubbing his eyes as if he had just lingered a second too long looking at an eclipse.
Over his 45 minutes on the pitch, his reaction and awareness were just off. Some will question his ability to play at centre-back in a back four. He has done it before and he will do it again because there is no doubt he can fulfil that role. This was just one of those days which should be consigned to history.
A more lingering issue surrounds Barrie McKay. The midfielder is a captivating talent. He can lift a crowd, produce a moment of magic and win a game. Yet, he was seldom seen against Rangers, his presence rendered redundant by John Lundstram. It’s in these big games against the Old Firm where questions are still raised about his effectiveness. Since returning to Scottish football he has played against Celtic and Rangers ten times. He has not scored and provided one assist.
Still, the answer is to continue to play him because he is capable of something brilliant but those moments are far less frequent against a higher standard of opposition. He will naturally get less time on the ball, fewer touches, meaning he has to be more efficient, more commanding when he does get it.
A word on Stephen Humphrys, however. A far from memorable debut away to Livingston, since then he has demonstrated he is going to be a more than useful signing. Curiously, in the Hearts programme he said he would take heading out of the game given the chance. Yet, he was brilliant in the air. On the ground he was positive and ambitious. The one positive light.
"We've had moments in games where we look a level above, then that intensity will drop and we look stuck in second gear," Rangers fan CJNovo992 told the Hearts programme. “I think that’s where the frustration kicks in.”
The Ibrox club have been enigmatic this season. Normally a description of an inconsistent winger or South American playmaker, but it is the best way to sum up Giovanni van Bronckhorst's men.
You would have thought the Premiership was done and dusted after six games. Yet, for a short period at least, Rangers were top of the Premiership. Were they at their best against Hearts? No. Were there signs of progress? Yes.
At points at Tynecastle Park, when it was 11 v 11, they struggled to control proceedings. For too long against ten men they had sterile possession, until the arrival of Alfredo Morelos.
The encouraging aspects, however, were goal contributions from Ryan Kent and Rabbi Matondo. The former needs to score more and the latter needs to be more purposeful and impactful. There were the performances off the bench of Morelos and Tillman, while Ben Davies cross field pass in the build-up to the second was exquisite. Finally, there would have been a relief to score not just one but two first-half goals.
If Rangers are going to put a run together now is the time.
Van Bronckhorst's Devlin comments
You will be hard pressed to find a more needless red card this season than Cammy Devlin's against Rangers. The Australian midfielder plays the game at a high intensity but there was absolutely no need to go into the challenge with Rabbi Matdondo the way he did. Looking at how it transpired and the position of the winger’s ankle the end result could have been a lot worse.
There will be discussion regarding the intent and malice of it but no one came close to dealing with it as well as Giovanni van Bronckhorst.
The Rangers man spoke to Devlin as he left the pitch. Not in a confrontational or aggressive manner. He could have easily expressed anger or remonstrated with the midfielder. Instead it was more measured but with authority and respect. The way Robin Williams would communicate with Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting or Mr. Miyagi to Daniel LaRusso.
"I really like him as a player, I told him you don’t need these challenges, you are a far better player than he showed today,” Van Bronckhorst.
"He is one of their best players, he is a midfielder with dynamics. I told him he doesn’t need these kinds of challenges.”
Devlin is a very good player and that intensity he plays with helps make him the effective all-action midfielder he is. But that challenge should act as a lesson in control.