A dramatic ending at Ibrox saw Hearts open their SPFL Championship campaign with an inspired victory thanks to goals from Danny Wilson and Osman Sow.
Sow produced the winner in stoppage time with an exquisite left-footed finish merely seconds after Nicky Law’s equaliser for Rangers. Wilson had given the visitors the lead after the interval with a fine header from Billy King’s corner.
Hearts held on to that lead and were minutes from closing out a 1-0 win when Law struck the equaliser. Yet they refused to settle for a point and Sow, with his fifth goal in five appearances for his new club, ensured they left Glasgow with all three points and an emphatic beginning to the new season.
It was a day many fans had been waiting for and the first half belonged to Rangers, who looked far superior going forward. However, they struggled to create much in the final third and would eventually pay the price for not converting that dominance into goals.
Rangers began with former Hearts players Marius Zaliukas, David Templeton, Ian Black and Lee Wallace all in their starting line-up. For the visitors, Neil Alexander, Alim Ozturk, Prince Buaben, Morgaro Gomis and Sow were all making league debuts. The League One flag was raised before kick-off and there was a touching tribute to the late and legendary former Rangers and Hearts defender Sandy Jardine. Ibrox’s Govan Stand has been renamed in his honour.
There was an early moment of panic in the away camp when Neil Alexander was almost dispossessed trying to dribble with the ball inside his penalty area. A brilliant sliding block from Jordan McGhee then smothered Kris Boyd’s shot from Lewis McLeod’s through pass. Rangers had assumed control and were pressing forward on top of the Hearts defence.
Sam Nicholson tried an attempt from distance on 17 minutes as the visitors emerged from being hemmed back. Play quickly reverted to the opposite end and Templeton missed a glaring opportunity from four yards. Kenny Miller’s deflected shot bounced into the winger’s path at the back post but, unmarked and with the goal gaping, he somehow headed over the crossbar. Another let-off for Hearts arrived moments later when Ozturk was caught trying to shepherd the ball out of play on his own byline. He was tackled by Wallace but Templeton wastefully clipped the cross over the bar.
The notion that Hearts were eventually going to pay for their defensive dithering was unavoidable at that point. A forward pass from Ozturk went straight to Law but Rangers could not capitalise. Then Zaliukas headed Black’s free-kick wide despite being unchallenged. Although this match was not in the dirty category, there was an undercurrent to it with many late tackles and niggling fouls.
Hearts came close six minutes from the interval when Wilson’s low cross clipped Ozturk’s toe but he could not divert the ball on target. Then came the first half’s only effort on target, remarkably given the open nature of the play. It came from Hearts as King headed Sow’s left-sided cross downwards, only for Cammy Bell in the Rangers goal to hold the ball comfortably. The away support appealed strongly for a penalty when King fell under pressure from Law inside the area but referee Craig Thomson wasn’t interested.
Rangers were forced into a substitution shortly after the interval as Black departed, presumably through injury. Just as his replacement, Kyle Hutton, was getting acclimatised, Hearts scored. King’s corner from the right was won by Wilson’s powerful header high into the net from around six yards. Ibrox fell silent, save for the 1700 travelling fans who erupted to acclaim their team’s first goal of the new league season.
Robbie Neilson, the Hearts head coach, made the sensible decision to replace 18-year-old Jordan McGhee in the aftermath of the goal. The defender had been booked and committed several fouls and Brad McKay was introduced to avoid any needless red cards. His first act was to receive a caution of his own for fouling Templeton.
Rangers strove to increase the tempo in search of an equaliser and came mightily close in the 56th minute. Law’s ball in from the left was directed goalwards by both Miller and Boyd, but sheer number of bodies in maroon saw both efforts smothered. Neilson was forced into another change on 63 minutes as Alexander collided with Ozturk at a high ball and had to be stretchered off with a suspected broken cheeckbone. That allowed Scott Gallacher to make his competitive Hearts debut against the team he left a mere few weeks ago.
As expected, the closing stages of the game were frenetic. Rangers’ pursuit of an equaliser intensified as time ticked away. Zaliukas’ first-time shot from a ricocheted free-kick was blocked by Ozturk on the ground. The same player put his head in the way of Miller’s left-footed attempt. And yet Hearts could have put the game beyond their hosts. Prince Buaben sprinted in behind the home defence to collect a through pass and tried to round Bell, however the goalkeeper emerged with the ball.
The crazy ending started in the first minute of stoppage time. Rangers forced an equaliser when Law hooked Miller’s headed cross ball at goal and Gallacher could not stop the shot. As the ball nestled in the corner, they celebrated what looked like a point. Within 60 seconds Hearts replied with a goal that would win the game when Nicholson’s through ball found Sow for a precise finish low to Bell’s left.
The travelling fans celebrated at full-time, whilst Rangers supporters jeered their team. It was an ideal way for Hearts to open their Championship campaign.
Rangers (4-4-2): Bell; Foster (McGregor 90), McCulloch, Zaliukas, Wallace; MacLeod, Black (Hutton 49), Law, Templeton (Shiels 71); Boyd, Miller. Subs: Simonsen, Smith, Aird, Clark, McGregor.
Hearts (4-2-3-1): Alexander (Gallacher 63); McGhee (McKay 55), Ozturk, Wilson, McHattie; Buaben, Gomis; Nicholson, Carrick (Holt 81), King; Sow. Subs: D Smith, Oliver, Keatings, L Smith.
Referee: Craig Thomson.