Stuart McCall was delighted to finally have the Rangers fans fully behind his team once more after the home players were applauded off following a deserved 2-1 win over champions Hearts.
The home side’s work rate and determination was there for all to see in the opening 45 minutes as they pressed and harried their opponents into a 2-0 deficit thanks to goals from Kenny Millar and Haris Vuckic.
Lee McCulloch’s red card on the stroke of half-time for an elbow on Hearts striker Osman Sow did make for a difficult second period, particularly after Genero Zeefuik pulled one back for the visitors with seven minutes remaining. But the home side showed the required mental toughness to hold on and extend their lead in second place over Hibernian to three points.
“That was the first time in a long time, probably since I was playing, that I got goosebumps in a match,” revealed McCall after the match. “I thought the fans deserved the performance but I also thought the players deserved their round of applause coming off. You need both together to be a success.
“I’m trusting the players the more I work with them, but there’s still a long way to go. We’ve rammed that home after the game. Take the belief, the confidence and the momentum, but we’ve got to keep doing it week in and week out.
“All in all it was a team effort, and it had to be today. Hearts came here having won nine on the bounce and they’re not champions for no reason. They’ve got players, especially going against ten men, who can play and move the ball into good areas, but we just dug in, and dug in. We got blocks, we got headers. I’m very proud tonight of the team and the fans.”
One performance which typified the changing attitude more than any other was that of Nicky Law. The midfielder started the move which led to the first goal and he was later announced as the club’s man of the match. It was an award he won back in the first game of the season when Hearts defeated Rangers 2-1, but on that occasion Law was booed by his own support.
This time cheers greeted his name being read out, and the player insisted the team is desperate to make it up to the fans after a frustrating campaign.
“The crowd lifted everyone and the atmosphere was as good as it has been since I signed for the club,” said Law.
For Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson it was an unfamiliar feeling of disappointment. Despite putting Rangers under some second-half pressure, they were second best for the majority.
The manager insisted the sub-par display had little to do with his side having already secured the championship, and he intentionally talked up his players prior to the final Edinburgh derby of the season next Sunday.
“I don’t want to be too down about it,” insisted Neilson.