Hearts' European fate becomes clearer as Garang Kuol scores at Rangers with the battle for third place finalised
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Hearts’ quest for third place ended at Ibrox following a 2-2 draw with Rangers as Aberdeen claimed the Premiership’s “best of the rest” tag. A convincing 3-0 win for the hosts against St Mirren at Pittodrie secured third spot and guarantees them European group-stage football next season if Celtic lift the Scottish Cup.
If so, Hearts will finish fourth and enter the Europa Conference League third qualifying round, provided they avoid defeat against Hibs at Tynecastle in their final match on Saturday. Whoever finishes fifth would then enter the second qualifying round.
Hearts took the lead in Glasgow after a brave start but fell behind to goals either side of half-time before substitute Garang Kuol’s stoppage-time equaliser. Captain Lawrence Shankland struck his 28th goal of a remarkable campaign inside the opening minute, however Todd Cantwell’s equaliser and Fashion Sakala strike early in the second half gave Rangers command. Kuol’s first Hearts goal since he arrived on loan from Newcastle earned the defiant away side a point.
With defender Alex Cochrane suspended, Hearts faced a home team in which goalkeeper Allan McGregor and Alfredo Morelos were bidding farewell to Ibrox. Substitute Scott Arfield would enter the fray to do likewise later. Those in blue had the most inauspicious start to the evening when the visitors scored after only 46 seconds.
Peter Haring flicked James Hill’s long throw to the back post, Rangers captain James Tavernier headed into the air, Shankland nodded downwards and the ball ricocheted off Josh Ginnelly before Shankland knocked it into the empty net from two yards out.
A VAR check for offside confirmed Hearts were 1-0 ahead. Ginnelly would have made it two had McGregor not beaten away his left-footed drive. Rangers looked unsettled and didn’t really respond until 19 minutes, when defender Leon King’s deflected 25-yard attempt forced Zander Clark down to his right to prevent an equaliser.
The goalkeeper’s fingertips pushed Nicolas Raskin’s effort from distance over the crossbar 10 minutes later. Then he touched Sakala’s powerful shot onto his right post. Rangers were edging closer to a goal as Hearts retreated.
It arrived in first-half stoppage time. Hill appeared to slip trying to intercept Morelos’ ball inside to Cantwell, the English midfielder galloping through to stroke a precise finish across Clark and in off the post.
The hosts moved ahead less than two minutes after the restart. Toby Sibbick misjudged a backward header towards Clark and Sakala nipped in to force the ball past the Hearts keeper. Hill got the final touch trying to clear before the ball crossed the line.
Although maroon shirts still passed the ball crisply and attacked when possible, they were vulnerable to a counter-attack. Clark was at full stretch to stop Arfield’s curling attempt and produced a fine save to deny Morelos from an acute angle with 14 minutes of regulation time left.
Kuol entered the fray and forced an attack down the right. His ball into Ginnelly hit Ryan Jack and the Australian teenager was in place to fire home the equaliser before setting off to celebrate.
Rangers (4-3-1-2): McGregor; Tavernier, Souttar, King (Arfield 66), Yilmaz; Lundstram, Raskin (Jack 81), Kamara (Matondo 66); Cantwell; Morelos (Wright 81), Sakala (Lowry 90).
Hearts (4-2-3-1): Clark; Atkinson, Sibbick, Hill, Rowles; Devlin (McKay 70), Haring (Kiomourtzoglou 83); Oda (M Smith 61), Shankland, Forrest (Kuol 83); Ginnelly.
Referee: John Beaton.