Andy Harrow gives his take on Rangers’ routine 2-1 victory over Hearts as they move back into second place.
Apathy reigns at Ibrox
Before the match, Rangers fans unveiled a banner proclaiming ‘No fight, no pride, nowhere to hide. Incompetent on and off the pitch’. It neatly summed up the mood around Ibrox. Frustrated by limp performances on the field and scunnered by events off it, plenty of regular Rangers fans had clearly decided they had better things to do with their Sunday afternoon, leaving large patches of empty seats around the stadium. They certainly seemed to have made the right choice after a stultifying first half which, at times, resembled a pre-season friendly; the dour football accompanied by an almost complete absence of noise from the stands.
Although the second half offered something for home support to finally cheer, it’s clear that the club has work to do to win around the vast majority of the fan base after a bruising few weeks.
Hearts need to offer more away from home next season
The meek display Hearts offered up on Sunday would not have come as a surprise to the away support. Under Levein, Hearts haven’t won away from Tynecastle since a 3-0 victory over Hamilton in January and they’ve been cautious - if not downright impotent - in most of the matches since. With little left to play for this season, and against a side in a fragile state, it was a rare opportunity to play away without fear; with the hand-break off.
It didn’t happen. In a sterile first half, Hearts managed one attack, where Steven Naismith took the wrong option and the chance came and went. Although they scored and hit the post in the second half, those fleeting attacks were set against a disjointed display.
While Levein has generally been well served by solid defensive unit, there are times over a season where a more positive approach is more likely to bear fruit. Next season, he’ll need to know when to stick and when to twist.
Hearts badly miss Milinkovic
Hearts badly missed the pace and trickery of David Milinkovic against Rangers. The winger has been one of Hearts’ more consistent attacking outlets this season and his absence at Ibrox was stark. Danny Amankwaa started in his place, behind Kyle Lafferty, in the Jambos attack but the Dane had a miserable afternoon. He struggled to put any pressure on the Rangers backline and allowed Tavernier to gallop forward without any fear that he’d be made to pay.
In a side lacking pace throughout, Hearts need Milinkovic, both as an outlet and a a genuine danger man. Without him, they look one-paced and impotent.
Graeme Murty can breathe a sigh of relief
After a week dominated by rumours of a rift between manager and players - and with the displeasure some had for their boss plain to see last weekend - Sunday offered an opportunity for Murty to show he still had some semblance of control over his dressing room.
He shuffled the pack only slightly - bringing in Cummings, Alnwick and Holt - but if the players were out to prove a point after last weekend, they didn’t immediately show it. While they controlled first half proceedings, there was no real sense of urgency from anyone but Cummings, who buzzed busily around the Hearts backline.
Whatever Murty said at half time clearly had a more positive effect though, as Rangers clicked quickly into gear in the second 45. Suddenly, Rangers began to exploit the vast space left in behind the Hearts wing-backs and both goals originated on the left; Jamie Murphy supplying a cross which Candeias nudged onto Cummings for the first, and a Murphy cross direct to Candeias for the second.
It was open season for Rangers down either flank for the remainder of the game and the Ibrox side had a host of chances to stretch their lead. While they didn’t add to their lead, there were, at last, some positives for Murty to clasp to..
Jason Cummings scores but doesn’t entirely convince
This was a real opportunity for Cummings to show Murty he’s the man to lead Rangers in the race for second place. The former Hibs man has had relatively few opportunities in the Rangers starting line-up since joining in January, but after Alfredo Morelos’ difficult afternoon at Hampden last weekend, he was pitched into the league clash with Hearts.
The reason Cummings doesn’t start more often was evident at Ibrox, despite a goal and an energetic display. In a team which only play one striker, Cummings’ faults are obvious. He struggles to hold the ball up as effectively as Morelos and, as a result, doesn’t bring others into play as often. His maverick tendencies are also not especially suited to a role which requires diligence and good positional sense. As a result, Rangers struggled to fashion opportunities through the middle, especially in the first half.
Yet, there’s no doubting Cummings’ inherent talent as a finisher and his performance against Hearts was full of commitment and brio. Whether it’s enough to give him the nod for Parkhead, time will tell.