Ian Cathro needed a gutsy, ebullient and tenacious Hearts performance after just two wins in eight games as the club’s head coach. He got all of that and more in this imperious victory over Rangers. Indeed, it is difficult to recall a more comprehensive Hearts win over the Ibrox side in recent times.
Goals from Krystian Nowak, Don Cowie and a double from the unstoppable Jamie Walker left Rangers overwhelmed. Their first-half equaliser through Emerson Hyndman preceded a second-half onslaught which, with 27 minutes remaining, saw Hearts 4-1 up and thoroughly in command against the Ladbrokes Premiership’s second-placed team.
It finished as Hearts’ biggest win over Rangers since the 4-0 Scottish Cup quarter-final triumph of 1956. It was a monumental win for Cathro and equally as big a defeat for his opposite number, Mark Warburton. The away support – those who were left, that is – left him in no doubt about their feelings at full-time.
Two months ago, these same two teams met at the same venue and Hearts recorded a convincing 2-0 win. The changes in Gorgie since then have been remarkable. Head coach Robbie Neilson, his assistant Stevie Crawford and the scorer of both goals, Robbie Muirhead, all joined MK Dons. Alim Ozturk, Igor Rossi, Juanma, Tony Watt and Conor Sammon have also left, although Sammon’s move to Kilmarnock is merely a six-month loan. Nine new players have been brought in to replace them.
Cathro’s arrival as Neilson’s replacement has been anything but smooth due to injuries and changing personnel. Rangers recruited Jon Toral and Hyndman to add strength to midfield but, in truth, they were poor. Five of Hearts’ nine recent signings played from the start and they certainly seem to be gelling on this evidence, although there is still work to be done for Cathro and his staff.
Andraz Struna, Aaron Hughes, Lennard Sowah, Malaury Martin and Esmael Goncalves were all in the side, with Greeks Alexandros Tziolis and Tasos Avlonitis on the bench alongside the Moroccan, Moha Choulay.
The opening goal arrived after just three minutes as Hearts began at a ferocious tempo. Goncalves won a free-kick on the right which was delivered to the advancing Struna approaching the byline. The Slovenian supplied a perfect cross for Nowak to head against the balance of Wes Foderingham and into the Rangers net.
It was the ideal start in a game where energy was always likely to be a pivotal factor. Martin drove two free-kicks at goal in quick succession but both landed wide of Foderingham’s left post. Rangers’ response was a run and shot by striker Martyn Waghorn which Jack Hamilton saved low to his right before Sowah completed the clearance.
Goncalves’ movement and determination to run with the ball was troubling the Rangers defence. Both Clint Hill and Rob Kiernan were penalised for fouling the Portuguese forward as he tried to scamper clear. However, there was a timely reminder to Hearts on 27 minutes that they could not afford to become complacent. Nowak’s blind backpass to Hamilton landed at Waghorn’s feet and it was left to the goalkeeper to block the Englishman’s shot and rescue his side.
Barrie McKay volleyed at goal moments later and was exasperated to see his effort whistle inches wide of Hamilton’s left post. Rangers looked to be growing in confidence as the hosts’ initial exuberance dissipated slightly. That was the only incentive those in blue needed to force an equaliser.
McKay’s driven 36th-minute corner was beaten down by Hamilton into a dangerous area. The ball bounced kindly for the onrushing Hyndman to lash it high into the net from around 12 yards. Indeed, Rangers would have been ahead at the interval had Hamilton not denied Hyndman a second goal after a scramble inside the penalty area.
The increasingly uneven Tynecastle surface contributed to a lack of flowing passing from either side. As usual, the atmosphere inside the Gorgie stadium remained intense. The decibel level increased whenever Goncalves took possession and ran at the Rangers defence. It raised to a peak when Walker blasted Hearts back into the lead four minutes after half-time.
Foderingham played a pass out of his penalty area to Andy Halliday, who had his pocket picked by the streetwise Walker. The Rangers midfielder allowed the ball to run across him and was dispossessed by Walker before a 25-yard strike which screamed into the corner of the net. Again, a blistering start to the half had seen Hearts breach the Rangers rearguard. They repeated the feat just five minutes later to go 3-1 up.
Martin’s intelligent, quick free-kick released Bjorn Johnsen down the left flank. The American showed his close control to skin Hill and fire a low left-footed cross to the back post. Cowie was arriving at speed for a straightforward tap-in from three yards. With a two-goal cushion, the Edinburgh club were now well and truly in control of this encounter.
Tziolis stepped out of the technical area for his Hearts debut and took Martin’s place. The Greek internationalist quickly showed his quality by moving the ball around crisply and smoothly despite the pitch being badly cut up. His passing initiated the move which brought Hearts’ fourth goal – and Walker his second of the evening.
Struna received possession wide on the right touchline and crossed into the Rangers box from deep. Foderingham emerged to punch as Johnsen challenged and the ball landed loose. Walker was first to it to side foot into the net – another calamity in defence for the visitors.
By now, Cathro was in full flow on the touchline. Arms waving, gesticulating, applauding, he was in danger of getting carried away. The home support responded to his animated antics with chants of “bring on the Hibees” and “we want five”. Across from Cathro, Warburton looked rather beleaguered. His decision to replace Hyndman with Josh Windass was loudly jeered by the travelling fans in the Roseburn Stand. His mood didn’t improve any when another substitute, Harry Forrester, had a goal disallowed for offside. It was turning into one of those nights for Rangers. Tavernier prevented a probable fifth for the hosts with a late sliding challenge on Walker. Foderingham threw himself right to push the winger’s free-kick for a corner and was then at full stretch to get to Sowah’s 25-yard piledriver. Clearly, Hearts were in no mood to relent despite the fact this game was finished as a contest.
Avlonitis was next for a debut as Nowak departed to warm applause. He was fortunate to come on when there was little to concern his fellow defenders. Time was played out with shouts of “ole” greeting each completed Hearts pass. Such is life when you’ve battered one of the big Glasgow clubs.