Yet, ultimately, even if by the absolute barest minimum, the home side did enough to keep Giovanni van Bronckhorst free from increased calls to be removed from his post as Rangers manager. The poverty of so much served up by the Dutchman’s players won’t quell any demands for change. But the 1-0 victory eked out, courtesy of a 65th minute Malik Tillman strike, secured him the victory that he needed as much as the air any of us breathe. The suffocating effects of the 2-1 loss away to St Johnstone at the weekend, on the back of drawing at home to Livingston a fortnight earlier, made that so.
And Rangers deserved their victory, even if urgency and invention so often seemed to elude them, as a consequence of these facets proving almost entirely alien to their visitors. The Robbie Neilson gameplan was to sit deep and defend robustly. And, er, that was it. Even if the Tynecastle manager will no doubt lament a cross somehow zipping between Andy Halliday’s legs a few yards out when any touch would have turned it in, shortly after the interval. Frankly, though, no-one watching on, who had continued to rub their eyes to stop the lids narrowing across a soporphic first hour, would have been surprised to learn that going into the encounter Hearts had only three wins in 11 outings in all competitions…and that their rivals had taken only four points from a possible nine in the league.
Van Bronckhorst’s team cauterised the title woundings of recent weeks in remaining, eh, just the seven points behind Celtic. Yet, their shapelessness and sluggishness around the box suggests that further bloodletting won’t be too many outings away. For the Dutchman it is merely a case of negotiating St Mirren away at the weekend and regrouping across the five-week World Cup shutdown. During which he will hope to have a raft of injured players returned to fitness. Hearts are likewise. Two teams drained by wearying European campaigns really didn’t have much to give for long spells.
Hearts, mindful of Rangers’ recent struggle for incisiveness, seemed to be content to see what the Ibrox side could throw at them. Until they were sparked by the goal, that rarely proved more substantial than the scrunched up paper balls - formed by the squares held up to form a Remembrance display - thrown on to the pitch by the home supporters as they were forced to make their own amusement. The initial flatness of the home players’ response to their shortcomings in Perth had the crowd expressing their rancour incessantly. Only in glimpses did Rangers rise above the mundane, and inevitably, Tillman was the man looking to make things happen. It was fitting, then, that he ultimately made the difference. A shuffle from Ryan Kent - who had begun to influence proceedings - allowed him to send the ball out to Borna Barisic on the left. The Croatian in turn delivered a flat cross that the American, stretching, with aplomb stabbed past Craig Gordon. A goal that van Bronckhorst will praise the heavens for.