Maroon Memories: Draw at Ibrox promised much more

David Obua rises high to head home Hearts opener at Ibrox
David Obua rises high to head home Hearts opener at Ibrox
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Hearts began the 2011/12 SPL season with an impressive display at Ibrox against league champions Rangers in Ally McCoist’s first game in charge.

Under the guidance of Jim Jefferies, who would be replaced as boss by Paulo Sergio just under two weeks later, Hearts were dominant in the opening half.

The Jambos simply overwhelmed their hosts in the first 45 minutes and might have killed the game dead had they not been guilty of profligacy in front of goal. Rangers grew stronger as the match progressed but, after Steven Naismith levelled on 58 minutes, they could not source a winner as Hearts held firm.

With former Hearts kid Lee Wallace watching from the substitutes’ bench having joined the Ibrox men in the summer in a £1.5 million deal, Rangers unfurled the SPL championship flag before kick-off to begin the McCoist era in earnest. Hearts started with three of their four summer signings, Jamie Hamill precluded only by suspension. His preferred right-back berth was occupied by Ryan McGowan, who faced another Rangers new boy in Juan Ortiz and executed two excellent tackles on his opponent during the opening exchanges.

Within eight minutes of kick-off, Hearts were forced into an alteration as Andy Webster’s groin injury saw him request to be withdrawn. Adrian Mrowiec was the replacement, with Eggert Jonsson reverting to centre-back. This had little effect on the visitors’ gameplan, however, and they moved ahead through David Obua’s precise header on 18 minutes.

McGowan won a corner which Danny Grainger angled towards the six-yard line for Obua to nod powerfully out of Allan McGregor’s reach under minimal pressure. That settled any nerves and Hearts began dictating play.

David Templeton’s direct running was causing serious consternation within the home defence. He scampered through two challenges to shoot after 25 minutes, only to be denied by McGregor’s shins. The winger then slid a through ball for Obua to eyeball McGregor, but the Ugandan hit the side-netting from around ten yards.

In truth, Hearts could have been 3-0 ahead by the interval, such was their control of proceedings. But Rangers were always likely to increase the pace and they began the second period in purposeful fashion. Marian Kello, the hitherto inactive visiting goalkeeper, saved low to his right from Steven Davis and then watched Naismith shoot high into the Copland Road Stand from an unmarked position in the inside right channel.

On 58 minutes, the hosts’ pressure paid dividends. Sasa Papac roamed forward unchallenged and delivered a left-sided cross which Naismith glanced into the corner of the net having been granted too much space inside the penalty box.

Rangers continued probing thereafter and were aided somewhat by Hearts retreating into their shell to preserve a point. In a rare second-half attacking foray, Obua forced an acrobatic save from McGregor with a 20-yard effort. Those in blue were lacking guile to take them beyond their opponents, which meant they enjoyed plenty possession but created little.

With moments remaining, Papac again sprinted off for goal and executed a one-two with Naismith which put him in behind the Hearts defence. The Bosnian’s weak finish nestled in Kello’s arms, and with that Hearts exited Ibrox with a deserved draw and an encouraging opening to the campaign.

Hearts: Kello, McGowan, Grainger, Webster, Black, Zaliukas, Jonsson, Obua, Sutton, Taouil, Templeton.