Comment: Hearts desperately need to find Rangers' number on Sunday

Hearts must defy all forms of logic if they are to overcome Rangers at Tynecastle on Sunday.

Thursday, 17th October 2019, 8:02 am
Krystian Nowak celebrates his goal with Esmael Goncalves (left), Bjorn Johnsen and Malaury Martin (right)

If it was based on statistical trends alone, there would be little point in the hosts turning up this weekend.

Hearts haven’t defeated Rangers since the 4-1 victory at Tynecastle in February 2017, almost two months into Ian Cathro’s ill-fated reign. The Edinburgh side’s scorers that night were Krystian Nowak, Don Cowie and Jamie Walker, who netted twice in one of his finest displays for his boyhood club.

Underlining how much water has flowed under the bridge since then, Walker - who has since spent 18 months in England with Wigan Athletic and Peterborough United before returning to Tynecastle in the summer - is the only member of the 18-man squad that night who is currently at Hearts.

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Rangers’ goal on that intoxicating evening in Gorgie was scored by Emerson Hyndman, who would go on to spend a brief and unfulfilling spell on loan at Hibs last season. That match proved to be Mark Warburton’s penultimate one in charge of the Ibrox side before he was axed.

Since then, Rangers have had three different managers - Pedro Caixinha, Graeme Murty and Steven Gerrard - and none of this trio have experienced any notable difficulty in dealing with Hearts.

In the nine meetings between the two teams since that 4-1 Hearts victory - all of them in the Premiership - Rangers have taken 25 points from a possible 27.

Hearts’ only point within this grim run came when caretaker Jon Daly oversaw a 0-0 draw with Caixinha’s side at Ibrox in August 2017, shortly after Cathro’s departure. Rangers have won each of the subsequent seven matches.

Current form suggests there is every chance they will extend their winning streak against Hearts to eight and their unbeaten run to ten. So far this season, Rangers have won seven of their eight league matches, scoring 26 goals in the process. Hearts, by contrast, have won just one league game and scored only seven goals.

Aside from the prospective return of Peter Haring from long-term injury, which should make them more robust, Hearts’ main source of hope with regard to this weekend’s fixture is that football has a habit of being entirely illogical, throwing up results that nobody could have envisaged.

Amid their struggles over the past year, Hearts have generally managed to remain competitive against Celtic, the strongest team in the country within this period, on a game-by-game basis. They must somehow find a way to do likewise against a Rangers side who currently have their number.

The need for Hearts to produce some genuine resistance to the Ibrox side this weekend is heightened by the fact the two teams meet again in the Betfred Cup semi-final a fortnight later.

With the Tynecastle support growing increasingly beleaguered, they could desperately do with their team delivering some indication this weekend that the upcoming Hampden date with the free-scoring league leaders won’t be as gruesome as many are currently fearing.