Boyce scores winner on debut as Hearts fight back to stun Rangers
- Liam Boyce scores 84th-minute winner on debut to stun Rangers at Tynecastle
- Hearts remain bottom but move one point behind Hamilton after securing only their third win of the season
- Rangers took the lead through Ryan Kent but fall to their second league defeat, now five points behind leaders Celtic
Liam Boyce scored the winning goal on his debut as Hearts came from a goal down to defeat Premiership title challengers Rangers 2-1 and earn a precious three points at Tynecastle.
The victory is only Hearts’ third win of the season and although the Edinburgh side are still bottom of the table, it moves manager Daniel Stendel’s side to only a point behind Hamilton in their fight to avoid relegation.
Hearts were competitive throughout and recovered from Ryan Kent’s opener in the second half with an equaliser from captain Steven Naismith.
And Hearts’ positive approach while the match was level was rewarded as Boyce capped a fine debut display with his first goal for the club, cutting inside to beat Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor at his near post via a deflection off Borna Barisic.
Tynecastle erupted at full time as the fans celebrated only their second home win of the season, and a victory which could inspire the Jambos to beat the drop.
The result will come as a massive blow to Rangers, however, and leaves manager Steven Gerrard’s side five points behind leaders Celtic in the title race.
Hearts frustrated Rangers throughout. The visitors struggled to play in midfield and found it difficult to pass the ball through Hearts’ two banks of four.
Hearts committed numbers forward and made life difficult for Rangers with new signing Boyce joining Naismith in attack. Boyce was aggressive and held the ball up well, allowing others to join play.
Boyce thought he had made the perfect start to life in Gorgie after just 14 minutes as he was slipped in by Naismith and finished under McGregor, but was ruled offside by the assistant referee.
Hearts’ approach left space for Rangers to counter attack, however, and the visitors had three chances to take the lead on the break in the first half.
Kent, who was Rangers biggest threat in the absence of Alfredo Moreles, blazed a shot over from the right side of the box after being played in by Ryan Jack.
Kent then turned provided as he played in Joe Aribo, but the winger’s touch was heavy and, under the pressure of Hearts defender Aidan White and goalkeeper Joel Pereira, toed the ball wide from inside the box.
Jermain Defoe also had a chance following a flicked header from Jack in midfield but was denied after excellent defending from the recovering Craig Halkett.
With Rangers struggling to keep possession, Hearts grew into the game, with Boyce and Naismith combining well. Naismith went closest for the hosts with a glancing header from a corner.
Gerrard made two changes at the break with the injured Ryan Jack making way for Scott Arfield in midflied and Matt Polster replacing John Flanagan at right back.
And after a frustrating first half, perhaps Gerrard’s words at half time also had an impact as the visitors took the lead two minutes after the restart.
Again the opportunity came from a counter attack but this time Gerrard’s side were far more clinical.
Kent picked the ball up in his own half and drove forward before playing the ball wide to Barisic. The left back’s low cross found Aribo, who, with his back to goal, laid the ball back to Kent who fired into the top right corner.
Defoe then had his second opportunity to bear down on goal after being slipped in by Aribo, but was again denied by the recovering Halkett.
The tide seemed to have turned with Rangers looking threatening every time they came forward, but with Naismith and Boyce on the field Hearts always had a chance to fire back.
And it was an excellent combination between the two forwards that led to the equaliser. Rangers had the opportunity to clear following a Hearts attack but midfielder Glenn Kamara lost possession. Boyce received the ball on the right hand side of the box and found Naismith with a clever pull back. The Hearts captain kept his cool to clip a first-time shot over McGregor and into the far corner.
With the game poised both managers made positive substitutions in the search of a vital winner.
Gerrard withdrew Kamara for attacker Sheyi Ojo, switching formations to match Hearts’ 4-4-2, while Stendel threw on forwards Conor Washington and Uche Ikpeazu, while moving Naismith into midfield.
The substitutions led to a frenetic finale. Washington had a shot cleared off the line by Rangers defender Connor Goldson, following good work by Ikpeazu in the left channel, and the home crowd were roused as they sensed the opportunity for a scalp.
The winner came with 84 minutes on the clock. Rangers again failed to clear and the ball broke to Boyce on the right side of the box. The striker cut inside onto his left foot and fired a shot back across goal inside the near post, after taking a deflection off Barisic.
With Rangers having already used all three on their substitutions, there was nothing Gerrard could do but watch on as his side pushed for an equaliser.
But without leading scorer Morelos his side looked blunt, and Hearts held on comfortably for a memorable win.