A fortnight after beating Aberdeen 5-0, a result that made a mockery of Beale’s assessment, Hearts might themselves have been on the end of a serious drubbing. Make no mistake, the final 0-3 scoreline flattered the hosts. Their manager Robbie Neilson, who has got most things right in recent weeks, must consider his own part in the defeat.
Neilson made the changes very obviously required at half-time, including taking off overawed teenager Garang Kuol, but, even then, it was too late. The visitors were already two ahead after an 8th-minute header from Alfredo Morelos and a fine hooked finish from Malik Tilman 11 minutes before the break.
After having three goals disallowed for offside by VAR, a fourth, after Morelos tapped in a Fashion Sakala cross after 68 minutes, was allowed to stand following a review by the busy VAR team headed by Kevin Clancy.
It was the cue for a large number of home fans to leave. So much for a frenzied night under the lights at Tynecastle. James Tavernier was denied the chance to score his 50th penalty for Rangers shortly after the break when, after a mystifyingly long pause, referee John Beaton was invited to look again at what he thought he saw – an Alex Cochrane clip on Ryan Kent. Beaton overturned his original decision and booked the Rangers winger.
It was hard to work out if Rangers were extremely good, or Hearts were very bad. A bit of both, perhaps. But the hosts hadn’t given themselves a chance. Rangers took a grip of the match from the off.
Neilson opted to hand Kuol a first full start but the occasion overwhelmed the 18-year-old, understandably. The Australian forward, a huge prospect signed on loan from Newcastle United, was playing out of position on the right and looked lightweight in the extreme. He did, though, manage to fell Borna Barisic after a mistimed challenge and was very fortunate to escape a booking – or worse. Beaten seemed to consider the circumstances of a young man making his full debut in an unforgiving environment. The foul led to Rangers’ opening goal.
Both Kuol and Barrie McKay were submerged by the Rangers midfield, with John Lundstram back to his best for the Ibrox side. Robert Snodgrass is no ball winner and yet it seemed to fall to him to do the digging in for his side. It was a mess on which Rangers feasted. Two offside calls denied them more goals in in the opening 45 minutes.
The two that did count were nicely taken. Morelos headed back across Zander Clark after Kent brushed off Kuol and clipped in a cross. Tillman hooked the ball into the net after Barisic’s centre was headed back into the danger area by Connor Goldson.
Neilson had belatedly put Cochrane into midfield while switching from a back five to a back four by this point. It was all a bit akin to rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, although Hearts did pass up the opportunity to make it 1-1 when Lawrence Shankland led a charge out of defence and fed Kuol, who laid the ball off to McKay. Allan McGregor made a good block. It was the hardest the Rangers goalkeeper was worked all night.