GENERO ZEEFUIK was the hero with two late goals as Hearts ended their title-winning campaign by coming from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Rangers.
Scorers: Hearts - Zeefuik (82’, 90’); Rangers - McGregor (32’), Miller (40’)
The Ibrox club finished third in the table as Hibs claimed second place on the final day with victory at Falkirk. However, it was Zeefuik’s late double which sparked the celebrations in Gorgie as Hearts received the Championship trophy.
Goals from Darren McGregor and Kenny Miller in the first half put Rangers into what looked a comfortable half-time lead. The Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson was sent to the stand after referee Calum Murray rejected a penalty appeal just before the second goal. Substitute Zeefuik entered the field on 63 minutes, scored in the 82nd and again in the 90th to provide a rousing end to the season.
The game wasn’t short on controversy as players from both sides refused to hold back in any challenge. That made for a tense afternoon in which Rangers looked to have earned the three points, however Zeefuik’s timely intervention properly kicked off the title party.
The Rangers manager Stuart McCall demoted under-fire captain Lee McCulloch to the substitutes’ bench and paired Nicky Clark and Kenny Miller together in attack. Hearts started Scott Gallacher in goal and selected Soufian El Hassnaoui in place of Zeefuik, with Miguel Pallardo fit again for a place in midfield. Captain Danny Wilson was back from suspension for his final game in maroon.
The first clear chance fell to Jamie Walker from a sublime through pass by Pallardo on ten minutes. The winger found himself one-on-one with Rangers goalkeeper Cammy Bell, who sprinted off his line and got his body down well to deflect the shot for a corner. Five minutes later, with play fluctuating from end to end, Miller exchanged passes with Clark and scampered into the Hearts penalty area to deliver a low cross to the back post which narrowly evaded Haris Vuckic.
Osman Sow was cautioned for diving in a challenge with former Tynecastle defender Marius Zaliukas inside the Rangers box. The hosts had Walker and Sam Nicholson driving forward from midfield at every opportunity, however Rangers fashioned another chance when Nicky Law’s cross was sent into the side netting by Vuckic.
As tackles continued to fly in at a rapid rate, there were plenty incidents to keep referee Murray occupied. One needless foul by Alim Ozturk on Dean Shiels led to the opening goal. Law curled the resultant free-kick from the left towards the back post, where Darren McGregor rose highest to head beyond Gallacher and high into the net. A player Hearts tried to sign last summer, the defender looked elated to put Rangers ahead.
Hibs by that stage were ahead at Falkirk so Rangers needed that scoreline to change to have any chance of beating the Easter Road club to second place. They put themselves in a stronger position when Miller doubled their advantage, but only after Hearts fans screamed for a penalty. Sow chased down Zaliukas and intercepted a tame backpass by the Lithuanian. He then tried to go round Bell but the Rangers keeper dived to push the ball clear, upending Sow in the process. The home support appealed in unity for a spot-kick but Murray played on, convinced Bell played the ball first.
To compound Hearts’ frustration, Rangers literally ran up the park and scored. A low cross from Richard Foster was tapped into the net from around six yards by the unmarked Miller as a chorus of jeers poured out from three of Tynecastle’s stands. Neilson was ordered out of his technical area by Murray, presumably for protesting at the incident with Sow, and the first half ended with a crowd of players arguing and barging as they went up the tunnel.
Hearts started the second half looking disjointed in defence and struggling to keep possession. They composed themselves and began attacking. Walker forced Bell to save his 20-yard drive at the second attempt, and McHattie also forced the Rangers keeper into a save from close range. There was another penalty appeal when McHattie appeared to be caught by Law inside the box, but again referee Murray carried on.
A perfectly-timed last-ditch tackle by the impressive McGregor denied Sow a clear shot at Bell on the angle as Hearts pushed for a goal. At the other end, Zaliukas headed a Vuckic free-kick wide when he really ought to have hit the target at least.
Hearts punished his profligacy with a goal from substitute Zeefuik nine minutes from the end. The Dutchman backpedalled to head Morgaro Gomis’ cross away from Bell into the opposite corner, sparking late hope amongst fans that they might earn a draw. It took until the 90th minute for that hope to become reality.
A long ball from Alim Ozturk was won in the air by Callum Paterson - now playing centre-forward - and Zeefuik touched the loose ball down before driving it past Bell with his left foot. The roar which greeted the goal was one of relief and ensured the home players were in party mood to receive the trophy.
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