Graeme Murty was cautious when asked if he thought his side were now in a title race. With Celtic and Aberdeen facing up today, his team reduced the gap at the top of the table to six points but the Rangers manager was unwilling to voice what many in the Ibrox stands are now daring to believe.
“You guys can say that all you want, as far as I am concerned [Celtic] are still the team to beat at the top of the table. We will just concentrate on us and make sure we finish the season as well as we possibly can. We have to take care of our own business and I thought they took that into the game and I was really pleased,” he said, conceding they have put themselves “in a good position to enjoy the latter half of the season”.
The home side cruised through this one and will be even more comfortable as they sit back and watch their main rivals battle it out, knowing that any outcome will benefit them.
“All we can really worry about is ourselves,” added Murty. “There will be very many interested eyes from our group [on that match] but we have to take solace and comfort from the fact that we have taken care of the business that we can take care of. That’s the really pleasing thing.”
A side on a rich run of scoring form, Rangers came up against a Hearts team renowned for giving very little away. Much of that is down to a dogged backline, that boasts international players and a goalkeeper desperate to break through onto that stage himself and if it wasn’t for Jon McLaughlin, Murty’s men could have won this by a barrowload more.
From start to finish the Govan side had control of proceedings, piling the pressure on their guests, but they took longer to kill them off than the fans, or the manager, wanted.
Hearts had started things with a modicum of intent, Kyle Lafferty latching on to a dangerous long ball upfield but his driven cross had no-one on the end of it.
But those kind of sojourns deep into the Rangers half were to be extremely limited. In the seventh minute Sean Goss forced McLaughlin to push his effort over the bar and while the maroon rearguard held firm, they were bombarded as every cleared ball was piled back in on them and Greg Docherty was the next to test him, skelping a low drive from the edge of the box. McLaughlin dived full length to block and then gather to stump the swarming Rangers reinforcements.
Josh Windass had openings but, like so many of his team-mates, he was profligate with his finishing,
There was a 10-15 minute spell where Hearts fought to have an offensive say and in the 19th minute Lafferty brought out a Wes Foderingham save but Rangers were quick to counter attack and Joaquim Adao was forced to clatter Alfredo Morelos as he bore down on goal. Ross Callachan then had a stab at gaining a foothold for Hearts but Foderingham was equal to his shot.
The fact it took Rangers until the 42nd minute to open the scoring was down to the stern resistance of the capital side. They finally succumbed as Docherty feigned a shot before slipping the ball to Jamie Murphy, who side-stepped a couple of challenges and left the keeper on his backside before slotting home.
Hearts swapped personnel and tinkered with the shape as they fought to get into the game and with McLaughlin acting like a one-man forcefield in goal, they retained a slim chance of snatching something. McLaughlin has voiced his international hopes and, arguably the best keeper in the league, if Scotland boss Alex McLeish was watching then he enhanced his chance of inclusion.
He foiled Daniel Candeias, pulled off double saves from Morelos and Murphy and was out early to block from Windass as the tally of crucial interventions clicked into double figures, while Hearts best effort was a clearance from Russell Martin that ricocheted off substitute Steven Naismith but spun just wide.
Rangers did finally get their second, with two minutes to go. Windass’ free-kick was saved by McLaughlin and while the backline cleared the corner, James Tavernier fed Candeias and his cross found Martin as he slid in at the back post.