Rangers ran out comfortable 4-0 winners over Hearts at Tynecastle this afternoon to set themselves up for the crucial week ahead with Fernando Ricksen the unlikely two-goal hero.
Despite the scoreline it was a hard-fought game with no quarter given by either side, the Ibrox men scoring three goals in the closing stages to give the scoreline an exaggerated appearance.
Rangers made two changes from the side that defeated Dunfermline last weekend, with welcome returns for both Lorenzo Amoruso and Ronald De Boer, replacing Bob Malcolm and Michael Mols.
There were the customary huge gaps in the home support, whilst the stand housing the traveling support was packed to capacity.
Hearts made the first attempt at goal with a 25-yard volley by Phil Stamp in eleven minutes that was held by Stefan Klos.
Three minutes later Shota Arveladze should have opened the scoring when he was released by Mikel Arteta only to see his low drive deflected wide by the legs of goalkeeper Roddy McKenzie.
Rangers were finding space even on the tight Gorgie pitch, and McKenzie again saved the home side in 21 minutes when he denied Arveladze as the Georgian homed in on a Kevin Muscat cross after the full-back had been fed down the right by Barry Ferguson.
The movement of the visiting forwards was creating all sorts of problems for the Hearts defence, and in 26 minutes a cleverly worked corner between Neil McCann and Barry Ferguson saw the former’s inswinging cross fall perfectly for Amoruso only for the Italian to shoot into the side-net.
Sixty seconds later the first yellow card of the game was shown to Neil McCann following a tussle with Alan Maybury, although the defender could consider himself fortunate not to receive similar punishment, Referee Hugh Dallas contenting himself with a lecture. Ten minutes later however Maybury was indeed booked – for a foul on McCann.
By then Rangers should have been ahead – a superb pass by Ronald De Boer finding Ricksen who with McCann unmarked inside him elected to shoot only to see McKenzie block his effort. Seizing the loose ball, Ricksen second time around crossed perfectly only for Neil’s header to be cleared off the line by Andy Webster.
The loss of Mikel Arteta with a hamstring injury in 39 minutes was a serious blow, the Spaniard being replaced by Stephen Hughes.
A goalless first-half did not reflect the chances created by the Ibrox men, but seven minutes after the restart Ricksen moved on to an Arthur Numan cross to send a low drive into the net from the edge of the box with the aid of a deflection.
Six minutes later Hearts were reduced to ten men when Maybury committed yet another foul on McCann, on this occasion a shockingly late tackle, and left Hugh Dallas with no alternative but to show him a second yellow and consequent red. Rangers were now well on top – McKenzie producing an outstanding save in 70 minutes to deny an Arveladze volley from a De Boer cutback De Boer was truly majestic throughout the game – his movement a joy to watch – yet even he could not make the game safe five minutes later when a clever overhead flick by Ricksen presented him with a golden opportunity only to be denied yet again by McKenzie.
From the resultant corner Hearts broke swiftly for Jean-Louis Valois to attempt an audacious chip from all of forty yards that only just cleared the crossbar, underlining the fragility of a one-goal lead.
The game was finally made safe in 79 minutes when Barry Ferguson netted with a penalty after Webster had hauled down Mols as the substitute homed in on a De Boer cutback. It was a stonewall penalty despite the home protestations, and Webster could consider himself fortunate not to receive a red card.
Two minutes later it was 3-0 when Ricksen headed home an Arveladze cross. McKenzie had been outstanding in the home goal and in 89 minutes he denied Ricksen his hat-trick when he touched over a twenty-yard drive from a De Boer opening.
The final act of the afternoon belonged to Rangers however – substitute Stephen Hughes netting with a low eighteen-yard drive from yet another De Boer slip.
HEARTS McKenzie; Maybury, Webster, McKenna, McCann; Oueifio (Kirk 70), Severin, Stamp (Simmons 61), MacFarlane, Valois; De Vries (Wales 70)
UNUSED SUBS Gordon, McMullan
RANGERS Klos; Muscat, Moore, Amoruso (Malcolm 83), Numan; Ricksen, Ferguson, Arteta (Hughes 39), McCann (Mols 70); De Boer, Arveladze
UNUSED SUBS McGregor, Latapy
REFEREE Hugh Dallas