Former Tynecastle manager Craig Levein felt the players looked jaded in extra-time at Hampden Park as Rangers’ fitness levels proved telling despite 120 minutes in Wednesday’s Europa League final.
Substitutes Ryan Jack and Scott Wright scored both goals in the first period of extra-time, leaving Hearts to suffer a 2-0 defeat which might have been heavier but for goalkeeper Craig Gordon.
“Rangers were in control at the end of the second half and that continued into extra-time,” said Levein, speaking on BBC Scotland. “They got the goal, then the second pretty quickly, and I just felt Hearts looked like the team that had played in the Europa League final. They looked out on their feet, in all honesty.
“Credit to Rangers, I was expected them to tire in extra-time. I thought Giovanni van Bronckhorst used his substitutes well.
“I don't think Hearts can have any gripes about the outcome. I did feel Rangers started to take control and were worthy winners and I think you need to hold your hands up. I have tasted that foul taste of defeat and it's horrible.”
Ex-Hearts winger Neil McCann echoed Levein’s opinion. “I'm not surprised Rangers kept going,” he said. “There has been a resilience about the side. Could it have been Hearts’ day after the chances they missed? Well, it was a devastating few minutes – 94th and 97th minute.
“Rangers just blew the tie to bits and made themselves really comfortable. In the end, it could have been more but for Craig Gordon.
“I don’t think Hearts have let themselves down. They maybe fell out of the game but this Rangers team have proved this season that they are a right good side. It’s probably fitting they get something to show for it. I think it would have been really tough for them.
“Equally, you can say Hearts have had a terrific season as well.”
McCann acknowledged that the Hearts supporters will be disappointed after a third Scottish Cup final defeat in four years. “It will hurt the fans. The Hearts fans travelled in numbers and the sinking feeling would have come after the second goal.
“They can be proud of their team this season and the reward is the Europa League or Europa Conference League next year. Robbie Neilson has been backed and is it worth the risk to back him some more? Can you get Ellis Simms back for another year? It's a season Hearts can be proud of.
“What a goal [by Jack]. To beat Craig Gordon, it needs to be special and what a hit.
Kenny Miller, the former Rangers striker, didn't feel Hearts had a response when Van Bronckhorst’s team stepped up a gear in extra-time. “No, they didn’t. Even in the second half, the pressure is mounting and it took a wonderful save from Craig Gordon in the 90th minute to deny Joe Aribo.
“It was a wonderful strike from Ryan Jack when the corner came out to the edge of the box. Then a really good finish by Scott Wright and Rangers were worthy winners on the day.”