What was most damning about Hearts at Ibrox yesterday was that it was so utterly predictable they would play the patsy role against a Rangers team rarely required to get up a gallop to run over the top of them.
The contest, mundane and meandering until a comical late collapse from the Gorgie side, was so often what follows from a bang-in-form top of the table team facing the nuisance fixture of a home game against an opponent struggling at the bottom because they have so little going for them.
There was no edge, no real nastiness and none of the colour or controversy that this fixture has often been adorned in. Rangers, on the back of their draining and productive efforts in claiming a precious 2-2 draw away to Feyenoord in the Europa League on Thursday, racked up another victory to make it 11 unbeaten – with nine of these wins.
In embellishing their success with a late goal flurry, they firmly kept pace with Celtic at the Premiership summit, with both locked on 37 points. Steven Gerrard’s satisfaction will be bolstered by achieving their aim with training ground tempo for the early stages.
The start of a blazing run of games, there was nothing to get hot and bothered about here, as will be entirely different in Sunday’s League Cup final against Celtic that has loomed over the Ibrox club for weeks.
Little wonder. It will be a moment of truth as they look to become major trophy winners after an eight-year drought against bitter rivals who are looking for a tenth straight domestic honour. And before that, there are sure to be some fiery moments in their trip to Aberdeen on Wednesday.
Gerrard derived everything he wanted from yesterday’s game. Alfredo Morelos continued his remarkable scoring form and Ryan Kent netted for the second week in succession to give further indication he is capable of adding the necessary goals to his chicanery. The hefty scoreline ensured Celtic only have a one-goal advantage at the top of the table while Gerrard was also able to rest key man Ryan Jack on the bench.
The visitors, meanwhile, got everything they deserved. Which was the biggest, fattest nothing. The Tynecastle men are as rudderless on the pitch as off it, and by Jiminy, the footballing low to which owner Ann Budge and her board have brought Hearts is now crater-like.
It feels an act of vindictiveness to have Austin MacPhee limp along as interim head coach with a month somehow proving too little time to make any definitive decision on who should be tasked with mopping up the mess that Craig Levein has created.
That mess was laid bare by the awfulness of an Ibrox performance that makes two wins from 15 league games seem a decent return from such a motley looking crew. MacPhee aligned five of them in defence yesterday. He could have put 55 across the back and they would not have prospered, so beaten down they appear.
The 11th minute opener did, though, demand pristine and familiar deftness from Gerrard’s men... yet another teasing, arcing ball in from Borna Barisic begetting another imperious header from Morelos for goal No 25 of a dazzling campaign.
Hearts were sliced open with ease for a second goal eight minutes before the interval, that allowed Kent to tap in from the middle of goal after being fed by Joe Aribo from the right.
The roof fell in on Hearts courtesy of a goal that summed the Tynecastle men up in 64 minutes. James Tavernier curled in a cross from the right that led to the luckless Christophe Berra stretching to block and instead diverting into his own net.
Rangers then smelled blood as they stepped up their bid to cut into a goal advantage established by Celtic in their early 4-1 win away to Ross County. If there was a Hearts defence, it didn’t act like one ten minutes from time as Rangers substitute Greg Stewart was able to pounce and poke the ball in when keeper Joel Pereira pushed a Sheyi Ojo effort towards him. A landmark moment, the strike was the 10,000th league goal for the Ibrox club.
The fifth goal of the afternoon came during a late flourish that could have produced a couple more.
On-loan Manchester United keeper Pereira didn’t cover himself in glory after a Jermain Defoe effort was blocked in the 85th minute. Stewart was somehow able to head in, with the ball crossing the line before the veteran striker helped it on its way. Meanwhile, the help that Hearts need to arrest their decline appears divine.