The Ibrox side’s cause wasn’t helped by the ill-effects showing from their midweek exertions with several players on international duty, including Barry Ferguson, who sat out the first half having been part of the Scotland side who recorded a famous 1-0 victory away to France in Paris.
Boss Walter Smith boldly set out to guard against post-France fatigue with his Tynecastle selection. That was not unexpected ahead of a three-month period when domestic and Champions League commitments would see them play a game almost every four days.
Yet, it still made for sharp intake of breath to see Ferguson named as a substitute and Lee McCulloch being rested altogether. Of the four Ibrox employees who played active parts in the Parc des Princes, only Alan Hutton and David Weir started. An injury to Andy Webster left Smith with no option but to push his 37-year-old centre-back through another draining 90 minutes.
Carlos Cuellar had won rightful plaudits for his combativeness and composure since arriving at Ibrox in the preceding summer. These two qualities deserted him in the opening period – in spectacular fashion.
He looked off the pace from the moment he careered through the home side’s creative fulcrum, Andrius Ksanavicius, as if he were a runaway train in the seventh minute.
Another injudicious intervention from Cuellar five minutes later and Hearts were deservedly ahead. The Spaniard seemed too mesmerised by Ksanavicius’s edge-of-the-box trickery to realise that by sliding in he was merely knocking the ball straight to Andy Driver. His effort from wide on the left was a mighty hit, but appeared to require a nick off Hutton’s thigh to go in via the far post.
Cuellar was the unwitting architect of a second for the home side in the 26th minute. A hit and hope from Ibrahim Tall at the edge of the box wickedly deflected off the foot of the centre-back and looped up and over the helpless Allan McGregor.
Rangers were then well out of it, and remained so until Robbie Neilson clattered Ferguson in the box. That allowed Daniel Cousin to convert and the visitors to contemplate a turnaround with a 42 minutes left.
Those thoughts did not survive when Michael Stewart buried a penalty at the other end 16 minutes later, Hutton was responsible for a truly daft challenge on Kestutis Ivaskevicius that allowed Stewart to make it 3-1 from the spot on 70 minutes, and effectively end any possibility of a Rangers comeback.
Rangers were bedraggled when Ivaskevicius added a fourth for Hearts after he turned inside from the left and fired in a low effort.
When DaMarcus Beasley did likewise two minutes later, neither he nor any team-mates showed any emotion. From the point the scoreline read 2-0, they appeared to accept it would be Hearts’ day.