A STIRRING Hearts performance clinched this full-blooded clash on the opening weekend of the season as the Jambos repeated the scoreline against the Glasgow giants which secured them Scottish Cup silverware three months before.
New Rangers boss Dick Advocaat encountered a Jambos team pumped up to the maximum by Jim Jefferies and in unforgiving mood over Rangers’ defensive problems. The pace of Hearts’ attack was promised to be Jefferies’ major weapon and so it proved, as the Rangers defence was scythed open time and time again in the first half.
On six minutes, Neil McCann skinned makeshift right-back Rino Gattuso but his tame low cross should not have posed too many problems. Arthur Numan, however, let the ball go behind him and, as he stretched in vain, there was Stephane Adam to smash the ball ruthlessly past future Tynecastle hero Antti Niemi.
The Gorgie side had power and pace which Rangers simply could not match. And it was Swede Jonas Thern who was caught faltering for the second goal as Hearts threatened to run riot.
Adam was the provider this time after leaving Thern stranded and he played the ball through to Jim Hamilton, who scored with a clinical, angled drive after 20 minutes.
The recently completed rebuilding work at Tynecastle would have been under pressure had Hearts scored a third and without Niemi’s acrobatic double save from the two goalscorers, they would have done just that seconds later. But Rangers pulled one back when Gordon Durie headed Thern’s cross from the right down into the path of Giovanni van Bronckhorst. The Dutchman’s miscued right footer went straight into the path of Rod Wallace, the man who admitted before the game that he didn’t have a clue where Hearts played, and asked how far away Edinburgh was. But he at least exhibited his prowess at reading the route to goal by dispatching a shot low past Gilles Rousset.
The best equalising opportunity fell to Van Bronckhorst when he sent a diagonal skimmer to take some shavings off Rousset’s left-hand post. Andrei Kanchelskis replaced Thern at the interval for a tussle with Gary Naysmith, yet, if that was to work, his midfield should have been instructed to pass him the ball.
When they did, it was the young Naysmith who won the most serious battle, blocking the Russian from shooting in injury time, then brilliantly feeding McCann with an arcing pass up the wing.
Of far greater nuisance was Wallace, who shaped for the spectacular with an overhead kick and had a 20-yard chance made for him by Durie’s lay-off. Both flashed over the bar and, later in the game, he was denied by Rousset’s point-blank reactions in a scramble. The best play from Hearts now was defence in depth. The Gorgie side soaked pressure up brilliantly, too, as frenzy took over. Jorg Albertz swerved in a special, Rousset parried, but Numan mis-kicked in foreign territory. But Hearts held on and three quarters of the stadium erupted in celebration at the final whistle after a hard-fought win.
Hearts: Rousset, Locke, Naysmith, Weir, Ritchie, Salvatori, Flogel, Fulton, Adam, Hamilton, McCann.