Ian Cathro’s Hearts reign finally caught fire tonight as his rampant new-look side obliterated Rangers to reignite their hopes of a top-three finish in the Scottish Premiership.
After Krystian Nowak’s early opener had been cancelled out by Emerson Hyndman before the break, the outstanding Jamie Walker struck a double either side of a Don Cowie goal early in the second half in what was the Edinburgh’s side best performance of the season.
The victory was only Cathro’s second in eight games as head coach but, after a difficult first two months in charge, this magnificent display, in front of a buoyant crowd, offered plenty signs that Hearts, who are now within eight points of second-placed Rangers, can go now go on and enjoy a fruitful end to the campaign.
Five of Hearts’ nine January signings made the starting line-up, although Esmael Goncalves was the only one pitched in for his debut as Greek pair Alexandros Tziolis and Tasos Avlonitis started on the bench. Both came on for their debuts in the second half.
Hearts took the lead after three minutes when Cowie’s quickly-taken free-kick released Andraz Struna down the right and the Slovenian’s cross was met at the far post by Nowak, who headed beyond Wes Foderingham for his first goal for the club.
Malaury Martin then sent a couple of free-kicks just wide of Foderingham’s left-hand post as the pumped-up hosts threatened a second.
At the other end, Jack Hamilton had to act smartly to paw out an angled shot from Martyn Waghorn after quarter of an hour.
Hearts were well on top in the opening exchanges and captain Perry Kitchen threatened with a couple of efforts from distance. The hosts had a let-off in the 28th minute when Nowak was short with a back-pass to Hamilton and Waghorn intercepted but the Rangers forward’s effort from a tight angle was blocked by the Hearts goalkeeper.
The visitors were gradually feeling their way into the match and Barrie McKay swerved a dangerous 20-yard shot just past the post on the half hour before Clint Hill headed over from a James Tavernier corner. The equaliser came in the 36th minute when McKay’s corner was weakly punched out by Hamilton and Hyndman burst on to the loose ball to thumped a powerful strike high into the net from ten yards out.
Hyndman almost put Rangers ahead on the stroke of half-time but his shot from inside the box was instinctively turned over the bar by Hamilton.
Hearts came out fired up after the break, however, and swiftly reasserted their authority. Walker restored their lead in the 49th minute when he seized on a mistake from Andy Halliday just outside the box and fired a brilliant low shot past Foderingham from 20 yards out.
And five minutes later, Cowie had Tynecastle in raptures when he tapped over the line after Johnsen had latched on a quickly-taken free-kick and clipped a cross-cum-shot towards the far post.
Things got even better for the hosts in the 63rd minute when Walker arrived to rasp in a loose ball from ten yards out after Foderingham, under pressure from Johnsen, failed to deal with a looping cross from Struna.
Man-of-the-match Walker almost grabbed himself a hat-trick with ten minutes left but Foderingham pushed his free-kick behind. From the resulting corner, Sowah saw a sensational 30-yard strike, which was heading for the top corner, tipped over by the Rangers goalkeeper.
Hearts: Hamilton, Struna, Nowak (Avlonitis 70), Hughes, Sowah, Cowie, Kitchen, Martin (Tziolis 55), Walker, Goncalves, Johnsen (Nicholson 63). Subs: Noring, Choulay, Beith, Smith.
Rangers: Foderingham, Tavernier, Hill, Kiernan, Wallace, Toral (Holt 71), Hyndman (Windass 61), Halliday, Waghorn (Forrester 60), Miller, McKay. Subs: Alnwick, Dodoo, Hodson, Senderos.
Ref: Kevin Clancy