Hearts 1-3 Rangers: Limp Tynecastle side crash to comprehensive defeat
Hearts produced one of their most limp displays of the season as they crashed to a seventh consecutive defeat against Rangers in the Tynecastle sunshine.
Goals from Jermain Defoe, Ryan Jack and Nikola Katic gave the Ibrox side a comfortable victory on an exasperating afternoon for the home support in which Steven MacLean’s consolation header gave them their only moment of cheer.
The result all but killed off Hearts’ lingering hopes of qualifying for Europe via their league position, while also ensuring that champions-in-waiting Celtic cannot now secure the league title against Hibs at Easter Road this weekend.
Craig Levein made two changes to the side that started the Scottish Cup semi-final win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle, with injured duo Aidan Keena and Peter Haring dropping out to be replaced by Sean Clare and Oliver Bozanic. However, the manager had to make a late change to his lineup when Clare took ill in the warm-up and was replaced by Craig Wighton. Forgotten man Ryan Edwards was a surprise inclusion among the substitutes while Clevid Dikamona was given a late call to take a place on the bench after Clare’s withdrawal.
Any buoyancy among the Hearts players from having reached the cup final wasn’t immediately evident as Rangers started strongly and Daniel Caneias and Ryan Jack both fired narrowly wide from outside the box in the early stages.
With the hosts struggling to gain any foothold, the visitors deservedly went ahead in the 15th minute when Jermain Defoe ran on to a Glen Kamara pass and fired clinically past Zdenek Zlamal after Craig Wighton had been dispossssed by Jon Flanagan midway inside his own half.
Hearts started to come into the game around the half-hour mark and both Uche Ikpeazu and Wighton spurned good chances in close succession as they shot wide after getting in behind the Rangers defence.
The Ibrox side doubled their lead in the 36th minute, however, with a similar goal to their opener. Ryan Jack robbed Bozanic midway inside the Hearts half, played the ball to Candeias and surged forward to receive the return pass before despatching a shot beyond the exposed Zlamal.
Rangers went further ahead three minutes after the break when Nikola Katic forced in a Candeias delivery from six yards out.
Hearts tried to find a response, with Christophe Berra and Wighton both seeing headers saved by Allan McGregor. Substitute MacLean nodded in a Jake Mulraney cross with 16 minutes left to give the hosts some hope, but ultimately it was too little, too late.
Hearts: Zlamal, Smith (Dikamona 83), Souttar, Berra, Burns, Bozanic, Lee (Cochrane 66), Wighton (MacLean 61), Djoum, Mulraney, Ikpeazu. Subs: Doyle, Shaughnessy, Edwards, Brandon. Booked: Burns.
Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Flanagan, Jack, Candeias (Middleton 72), Kamara, Davis (Polster 86), Arfield, Defoe (Lafferty 83). Subs: Foderingham, Worrall, Halliday, McCrorie. Booked: Defoe.
Ref: John Beaton