Hearts stun Rangers at Tynecastle to reach cup semi-final
Hearts beat Rangers for the second time in a row this season to progress to the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup. Graeme Sinclair reports.
Oliver Bozanic scored the only goal of the game to send the Jambos to Hampden.
The defeat for Rangers means that, barring a miraculous run in the Europa League, it is likely to be another trophy-less season for Steven Gerrard’s men.
It was a wet & windy affair at Tynecastle, and it seemed like the combination of a spell of torrid form and the weather led to a number of fans staying at home in what was a half empty stadium. Those Hearts fans who turned up will be thankful they made the effort, as their team produced a terrific display to pick up a deserved win.
Hearts were boosted by the complete absence of Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos, who was sidelined due to disciplinary reasons.
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard said: “He went back to Colombia because his mother was ill, and we said to be back by Wednesday, and he arrived back 24 hours late, missing a key preparation date.
Thus, I had to with the players that had been there on that day.”
The game started slow, with both sides feeling each other out, with neither side creating many opportunities.
The most noteworthy moment of the first 15 minutes was when Hearts centre back John Souttar went down off the ball and had to be stretchered off.
Hearts Manager Daniel Stendel said after the match: “I think it’s not really good, the first diagnosis is he cannot play again this season.”
After the Souttar injury, Hearts started to control the game, and went close with a succession of headers, including captain Steven Naismith forcing a diving save from Allan McGregor.
The game was stopped again in the 33rd minute, as Scott Arfield had to come off for Rangers, being replaced by Sheyi Ojo.
The biggest talking point of the first half came on the edge of half time. Hearts should’ve had a penalty for a handball from George Edmundson, but referee Steven McLean neglected to award the hosts a spot kick.
From the resulting corner, Loic Damour put the ball in the back of the net, but he did so with his hands. Damour, who had already been booked, was lucky to escape without picking up a second yellow.
After the break, Hearts continued to have the better of things, and on the 57th minute, they finally got the breakthrough they deserved.
James Tavernier misplaced a header back to his goalkeeper and Lewis Moore pounced. He rounded Alan McGregor, before playing in Bozanic who smashed the ball into the back of the net.
Rangers brought on in-form midfielder Ianis Hagi to try and get back into the game, but it was Hearts that looked more likely to get another goal. Bozanic had a free kick well saved, and then Naismith missed a guilt-edged chance to wrap up the win.
Once again, the visitors failed to control the ball as was coming out the air, and Naismith was on it in a flash. He fired an effort on goal from 12 yards out, but his chance went narrowly wide.
Rangers still struggled to create clear cut opportunities, so much so that it took 65 minutes for Rangers to have a shot at goal. Hearts keeper Zdenek Zlamal made a good save to deny Ryan Kent at his near post.
Panic was starting to set in for Rangers, leading to aimlessly playing long balls up to Jermaine Defoe, who had been brought on in search of an equaliser. However, the Hearts defence were able to effortlessly see any ball out from danger.
The two best chances Rangers both fell to Edmundson. Both came from balls from the Rangers right, and both times Edmundson had free headers, but he sent both of them over the bar.
Play was halted for time after the second Edmundson chance, as it appeared as though a Rangers fan had thrown a coin at Zlamal.
Rangers rarely threatened for the rest of the game, and McLean finally put the travelling fans out of their misery, by blowing his whistle for full-time, earning massive roars from the loyal home support.
The win sees Hearts through to the semi-final of the Scottish Cup for the second consecutive season and will hopefully give them a boost in their bid for league survival.
Naismith said: “That’s the challenge for us, after the last game against Rangers everybody expected us to kick on, and it didn’t happen. We can’t let fall into that trap again.”
Meanwhile for Rangers, this underwhelming display likely marks the end of a second season without a domestic trophy under Steven Gerrard
He said “I’m very disappointed, the lowest I’ve felt since coming into the job, the performance was nowhere near good enough.”
Focus now turns back to the Scottish Premiership, Hearts have a massive match with rival Hibs on Tuesday, whereas Rangers face Hamilton on Wednesday.