Energy conservation might not feature among the SFA’s priorities, but it was a chief concern for the Ibrox side. They were supposed to be dead on their feet. However, Giovanni van Bronckhorst managed the game and his players prudently, even when extra-time presented another challenge, to prevail 2-0.
A sudden power surge in the first period of extra-time saw substitutes Ryan Jack and Scott Wright score twice within four minutes. The prospect of penalties clearly didn’t appeal.
Rangers fans might have been denied water in the stands on a sweltering night in Seville in midweek, but they quenched their thirst here as they stayed behind to pay tribute to their weary heroes.
This was the Ibrox club’s first Scottish Cup success since a victory over Falkirk in 2009 – the longest gap since the hoodoo years between 1903 and 1928. Indeed, if you don’t include the Petrofac Cup win in 2016, it was their first domestic cup success of any sort since a League Cup victory against Celtic in 2011.
What the club has gone through since then is well documented. Even the last seven days have proved arduous enough. One of the most gruelling weeks in Rangers’ history finally came to an end just before 5.30pm at Hampden Park.
It started with a two-goal victory over Hearts and ended with a two-goal victory over Hearts. In between times was a heart-breaking as well as strength-sapping defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League final in southern Spain.
Somehow the players still had the energy to follow skipper James Tavernier up the Hampden steps after another dose of extra-time. Allan McGregor still looked sprightly enough as he climbed the stairs to receive his medal at the ripe age of 40.
The goalkeeper was handed the last couple of minutes as he looks set to announce his retirement. Rangers had established a sufficiently commanding enough lead for Van Bronckhorst to consider such a ceremonial gesture. McGregor replaced Jon McLaughlin to huge applause from the Rangers fans and took up his position in front of the Hearts end, where the banks of empty seats told their own story.
Van Bronckhorst opted against handing Aaron Ramsey an opportunity to earn some redemption or at least say a goodbye to the supporters. The on-loan Juventus midfielder remained on the bench throughout and even declined the opportunity to hoist the trophy aloft as it was passed along the line of Rangers players.
His apprehension about the reception following his penalty agony in Seville seemed misplaced. Ramsey was greeted warmly by the fans as he went to warm up for the first-time after 35 minutes and offered a gesture of apology in return.
It was surprising that Van Bronckhorst declined to turn to the Welshman as Rangers struggled to make the breakthrough against a Hearts side whose second-half droop suggested they had been the ones playing a European final three days earlier.
Van Bronckhorst might have discerned that the tide was turning in his side’s favour even without Ramsey. Wright was proving menacing after coming on for Amad Diallo midway through the second half. Jack replaced Steven Davis after 80 minutes in a double substitution that also saw Glen Kamara sent on for Scott Arfield. Rangers tightened their grip on the midfield.
Wright saw a header crash off the bar in the dying moments of regulation time. Moments earlier 39-year-old goalkeeper Craig Gordon somehow touched a Joe Aribo shot past the post with one of his long legs. The Rangers striker had got his shot away despite Nathaniel Atkinson having a handful of his shirt, but referee Willie Collum was content to award only a corner.
Extra-time was something Rangers had hoped to avoid but Hearts who were the ones who seemed enervated. Two potential match winners in Liam Boyce and Barrie McKay had already departed the scene. The former limped off injured with 15 minutes left while the latter was replaced five minutes later after failing to have any impact whatsoever.
It was another case of what might have been for the Tynecastle side, who have now lost three Scottish Cup finals since 2019. Perhaps this was the most disappointing of the losses in that they had real hopes before kick-off. Conscious of Rangers’ efforts in Seville, they came with a game-plan to start on the front foot. It almost paid off in the tenth minute when Ellis Simms beat Tavernier to Boyce’s cross at the far post but hit the outside of the post from a matter of yards. Otherwise, the first half was the definition of cagey. The most concerning moment for Gordon was when he was tasked to deal with an overhit backpass from Craig Halkett and did so with his head.
The veteran ‘keeper was given more to do by the opposition in the second half as Hearts completely lost control of the midfield and man of the match Calvin Bassey was allowed to roam forward at will from left back. The 22-year-old was rampant at times and delivered a succession of dangerous crosses that deserved better finishes. He took matters into his own hands at one point when he ghosted past John Souttar before testing Gordon, who saved brilliantly low to his left.
It was the one time anyone got the better of Souttar, who was superb. The defender was playing his last match for Hearts before joining Rangers this summer and the idea he might struggle with this last awkward assignment was exposed as laughable. Time and time again he made valuable interceptions or blocks. Along with Gordon, he was immense.
But they could only do so much. Jack took a touch before crashing a shot in off the crossbar after Craig Halkett’s clearing header fell at his feet. Rangers delved into their reserves of stamina one last time four minutes later. Wright found a burst of speed and latched onto Ryan Kent’s through ball before drilling into the corner past Gordon.