Robbie Neilson ended his Hearts tenure with an excellent 2-0 victory over Rangers to send the Jambos into second spot in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
The 36-year-old head coach – widely expected to take the vacant manager job’s at English League One club MK Dons in the next 24 hours – was given a standing ovation and chants of “there’s only one Robbie Neilson” by a packed Tynecastle crowd at full-time as he waved goodbye after two-and-a-half years in charge of the club.
With highly-regarded Newcastle coach Ian Cathro the front-runner to take over the reins at Hearts, Neilson leaves the club in fine fettle and on a high and it was fitting that a young player he took a chance on in Robbie Muirhead bagged a brace to put Mark Warburton’s men to the sword.
A minute’s silence was impeccably observed ahead of kick-off as respects were paid to the 71 people who died in the early hours of Tuesday morning, including the majority of Brazilian side Chapocoense’s players, after an aeroplane crash in Colombia.
Hearts named the same team that defeated Motherwell at home on league duty last Saturday with a 4-2-3-1 formation, while Rangers’ hero away at Partick Thistle, Joe Dodoo, was given a start up front in attack-minded 4-3-3 formation.
After a frantic but even first 30 minutes, Hearts took hold of the match. Bjorn Johnsen came close on 34 minutes after he flicked on a long throw from Callum Paterson – who was being watched in the Tynecastle stands by Derby manager Steve McClaren – towards goal, but Rangers goalkeeper Wes Foderingham made a fine save by tipping it over the bar. Undeterred, the hosts kept the pressure on and took a deserved lead just before half-time when Johnsen’s clipped ball across goal was slotted home at the far post by Muirhead.
Rangers thought they’d equalised seven minutes into the second half when Dodoo rammed home a rebound after Jack Hamilton could only parry Kenny Miller’s curling effort into the striker’s path. The visiting players, fans and staff celebrated for several seconds before linesman David McGeachie signalled that Harry Forrester was in an offside position and impeding Hamilton’s view as Dodoo shot, with the goal being subsequently disallowed.
It proved a big moment in the match as, on the hour mark, Hearts increased their lead. Paterson sent Jamie Walker free down the right and his low cross found Muirhead unmarked at the back post and he tucked the ball past Foderingham to leave Rangers on the ropes.
Warburton made three attack-minded substitutions in the space of six minutes in response to going 2-0 down, but Hearts kept their foot on the throttle and could have added a third when Johnsen, an impressive figure as he led the Hearts forward line, had his shot parried by Foderingham.
Rangers exerted some late pressure, but the closest they came to getting a goal back was on 90 minutes when Faycal Rherras cleared a Joe Garner effort off his own line.
The victory puts the Jambos ahead of Rangers on goal difference in second spot, with Aberdeen – who have two games in hand on the pair – a further two points behind in fourth place.
Hearts (4-2-3-1): Hamilton; Paterson, Souttar, Rossi, Rherras; Kitchen, Cowie (L Smith 83); Walker, Djoum, Muirhead (Buaben 77); Johnsen (Sammon 90). Subs not used: Noring, Nowak, Watt, Currie.
Rangers (4-3-3): Foderingham; Tavernier, Kiernan, Wilson, Wallace; Crooks (McKay 66), Halliday, Holt; Dodoo (Garner 66), Miller, Forrester (O’Halloran 60). Subs not used: Gilks, Hodson, Senderos, Waghorn.
Referee: C Thomson