HEARTS boss Jim Jefferies would have been encouraged by the start made by his side at Ibrox in this opening-day fixture but nagging frustration was evident as spurned chances could have put them out of sight of Rangers by half-time.
Rangers 1, Hearts 1
July 23, 2011
Debuts were handed to Jefferies’ summer recruits Danny Grainger, Mehdi Taouil and John Sutton. Three players who had vast experience of what was required in the SPL and a somewhat different aura around them to the international signings which had come into the squad in the years before them.
Rangers were laboured and unimaginative in a first half in which Hearts were by far the more threatening side. The Jambos performed with a potent combination of organisation and flair, auguring well for their prospects of building on last season’s third-place finish with perhaps a more sustained challenge to the Old Firm. The eighth-minute loss of the hapless Andy Webster to yet another injury proved no handicap for the Gorgie men. On the contrary, the redeployment of Eggert Jonsson into central defence as substitute Adrian Mrowiec slotted into the holding midfield role increased Hearts’ effectiveness as a unit.
With winger David Templeton recapturing the thrilling form that earned him so many rave reviews in the first half of last season, Hearts were able to cause significant problems for a Rangers defence in which the steadying influence of suspended captain David Weir was conspicuous by its absence.
Had Weir been present it would have been difficult to imagine David Obua meeting a cross with his head to nod his side into the lead after 16 minutes as he rose virtually unchallenged and placed Danny Grainger’s corner outwith McGregor’s reach.
Templeton’s direct running began causing serious consternation within the home defence. He scampered through two challenges to shoot after 25 minutes, denied only by McGregor’s shins. The winger then slid a through ball for Obua to eyeball McGregor, but the Ugandan hit the side-netting from around ten yards.
After Davis and Naismith had attempts at goal, Naismith glanced Sasa Papac’s cross into the corner of the Hearts net to restore a modicum of calm among the Ibrox natives. Papac was selected at left-back ahead of Lee Wallace, the £1.5 million signing from Hearts who watched the entire 90 minutes from the substitutes’ bench. But after scoring, the expected cavalry charge by the hosts never quite materialised.
A decent start to the season for Hearts, although it did little for Jefferies, who was sacked eight days later – his team had been without a win since mid-March – and replaced by Portuguese coach Paulo Sergio.
Hearts: Kello, McGowan, Grainger, Webster, Black, Zaliukas, Jonsson, Obua, Sutton, Taouil, Templeton.