Hearts 2-1 Rangers final word: How Jambos' tenacity means talk o' the toon is Liam Boyce in maroon
Tynecastle rocking once again thanks to Daniel Stendel's bold move
Tynecastle Park rocking to its very foundations and Hearts fans scrolling for GIFs of Boycie from Only Fools and Horses to send their pals. What a difference a new striker makes. Liam Boyce’s debut will live long in the memory after his late winning goal brought three priceless points in the Gorgie fight against relegation.
And “fight” was the operative word. This was the old Hearts returning to earn Daniel Stendel his first league win as manager. They harassed, scratched and battled against opponents from Glasgow, but they also scored two well-executed goals to convert a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 victory.
Ryan Kent put Rangers ahead two minutes after half-time before Steven Naismith’s sumptuous, curling equaliser. Boyce, signed for £150,000 from Burton Albion just 24 hours before, struck the winner with a clever dummy and slightly fortuitous deflected shot. Nobody cared as he dashed off to celebrate.
This win propels bottom-of-the-Premiership Hearts to within a point of second-bottom Hamilton, but the manner of victory was most pleasing. Another new signing, on-loan Toby Sibbick from Barnsley, epitomised the tenacity. Aggression and high-pressing rattled Rangers despite them scoring first. They eventually succumbed and comments from the visiting manager, Steven Gerrard, were particularly telling at full-time.
“I think we got what we deserved,” he conceded. “You have to give Hearts credit. They’ve rushed us off the pitch, they’ve outfought us and outbattled us. I don’t think they tore us apart, but in terms of the basics and what you have to do to earn the right to win a football match, Hearts were better than us.”
It was an honest assessment. Defeat in Gerrard’s 100th game in charge damages Rangers’ title credentials but most inside a raucous Tynecastle were preoccupied with the other end of the league table.
Steady improvement since Stendel replaced Craig Levein was nothing compared to this. The game poised at 1-1 on 75 minutes, Stendel came into his own. He introduced another forward – Uche Ikpeazu – for Sibbick. Rather than settle for a point, he was seriously going for it. Ikpeazu joined fellow striker Boyce, Naismith and another sub, Conor Washington, on the field as Hearts seized the initiative.
Yet Boyce would have been unable to score had he got his way. “He came in late on Saturday and did not train with the team,” explained Stendel. “He was really tired. After 65 minutes he asked to be substituted but we could not substitute him or we would have ten players. I said: ‘You need to to stay.’ It was the right decision. This is why we signed him.”
Boyce led the hosts’ attack with Sibbick beside Andy Irving in a very young central midfield pairing. They faced a considerable task against the experienced Rangers triumvirate of Ryan Jack, Steven Davis and Glen Kamara. Jermain Defoe continued up front in the absence of the suspended Alfredo Morelos.
Boyce and Kent both had early goal attempts before Boyce sprinted onto Naismith’s reverse ball to force into the net. He was thwarted by an offside flag.
Kent’s cushioned ball sent Joe Aribo in behind the Hearts back line on 19 minutes. The Nigerian should have scored but pressure from goalkeeper Joel Pereira and full-back Aidy White forced his shot wide.
Naismith could only glance Lewis Moore’s corner past the far post under pressure but the home support were encouraged by their team’s tenacious first-half display. Within two minutes of the restart, they found themselves behind.
Kent supplied Borna Barisic, whose low cross was laid off by Aribo into Kent’s path for a driven finish high beyond Pereira. Rangers appeared fired up. It required an expert sliding tackle by Halkett stop Defoe scoring a second.
The hosts composed themselves and equalised on 57 minutes. Halkett stole possession high on the right side. The ball landed with Boyce, whose cutback found Naismith for an exquisite clipped finish over McGregor and into the net.
Stendel threw forwards Washington and Ikpeazu on for the latter stages trying to garner three much-needed points. It was a bold move which earned just rewards. Play was now filled with tension as neither team could afford to lose.
The concern for Hearts was Boyce limping around with a quad muscle knock. He made light of it when it mattered. On 83 minutes, the Northern Irishman took centre stage and did what he was bought to do – score. His crossfield ball from the right found Bozanic for a delivery which Davis half-cleared into Boyce’s path. The striker cleverly sidestepped Aribo for a left-footed shot which deflected off Barisic and past McGregor low into the net.
Tynecastle erupted. It had been a long, arduous time since Hearts roused their fans with a barnstorming performance and result like this. Stendel and his assistant, Jorg Sievers, jumped around the technical area like two excited kids who had been told Santa Claus was coming again tomorrow. Except this was even better. The talk o’ the toon is the Boyce in maroon.