Rangers feel at ease at Ibrox with victory over Hearts

Jamie Murphy opens the scoring for Rangers against Hearts on Saturday. Picture: SNS.
Jamie Murphy opens the scoring for Rangers against Hearts on Saturday. Picture: SNS.
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Having dropped almost twice as many points at Ibrox than they have away from home this season, it hasn’t been difficult to pinpoint the biggest factor in the inconsistency which has plagued Rangers’ Premiership campaign.

So there was little doubt that Saturday’s fully-merited victory over Hearts was a significant step forward for Graeme Murty as he seeks to establish his credentials as manager of the Govan club beyond the summer.

Having previously been at the helm for home defeats by Hamilton, St Johnstone and Hibs this season, the 43-year-old has been hampered by the same difficulties at Ibrox which predecessors Pedro Caixinha and Mark Warburton struggled to overcome.

But regardless of where Rangers find themselves in the pecking order when the league season ends on 13 May, there is a growing sense that Murty is overseeing a team finally capable of the development and improvement which could satisfy their demanding home support.

Murty certainly appears to be growing comfortably into a job which came his way in unexpected circumstances but could yet prove to be propitious for Rangers.

Saturday provided further evidence that his January transfer business, in tandem with director of football Mark Allen, was both sensible and productive.

Midfielder Greg Docherty enjoyed his most eye-catching performance since signing from Hamilton, while winger Jamie Murphy and defender Russell Martin both capped off impressive displays with the goals which saw off a disappointing Hearts side.

For Murphy, pictured right, whose loan move from Brighton is expected to become permanent in the summer, it was a third goal in as many games for Rangers and his first at Ibrox. His composed and patient finish broke the deadlock with four minutes remaining of a first half which Rangers had largely dominated but in which Wes Foderingham was also forced into a couple of smart saves to deny Kyle Lafferty and Ross Callachan.

The second half was completely one-sided with only the excellence of Hearts keeper Jon McLaughlin and wasteful finishing of Josh Windass preventing Rangers from racking up a much heavier win. As it was, an air of nervousness remained among their fans until Martin bundled home a Daniel Candeias cross in the 89th minute.

“It is always a worry when you are only 1-0 up and you are trying to get that next goal to kill the other team off,” admitted Murphy. “But I never thought we were really in trouble. We were the better team on the day and we just kept trying and trying until we got the second goal. For me, it was obviously really special to score for Rangers at Ibrox. You dream of that as a kid.”

While there is renewed chatter among their fans of a potential title challenge emerging over the coming weeks, Murphy insists that kind of talk is off the menu in the Rangers dressing room.

“It’s not something we are thinking about,” he said. “We are only thinking about winning each game as it comes. It is only about us at the moment and we want to win every game we play. For us, beating Hearts was just another one ticked off and now we will look forward to the game at St Johnstone on Tuesday night.”

Hearts manager Craig Levein accepted that his side were flattered by the final scoreline as they succumbed meekly to only their second defeat in their last 15 league games. Given that those losses were at Celtic Park and Ibrox, it is hardly a cause for panic, but fifth-placed Hearts now find themselves looking over their shoulders at the in-form Kilmarnock side they face at Tynecastle tomorrow night.

It will be another reunion with a former club for striker Steven Naismith who received a predictably hostile reception from the Rangers fans when he made his entrance from the subs’ bench on Saturday.

“To be honest, it didn’t matter at all,” insisted Naismith who fell foul of a support which once adored him with the manner of his departure from the Ibrox club following their financial collapse six years ago. “I probably expected it,” he added. “It’s not the first time I’ve been booed and jeered for every touch in a stadium, or when I’m out and about, so it’s no different. You get used to it. The guys who retaliate are the ones it gets to, but I don’t bother.

“It was a disappointing result for us, especially for the younger lads in the team. I remember coming to Ibrox when I was starting out with Kilmarnock and it can be a daunting place. You want to try to put Rangers on the back foot, frustrate them and then their crowd aren’t going to be happy. But we just didn’t have enough possession in the game to do that.”