Why Rangers draw means there can be no more Hearts excuses

Almost everything that's been missing from Hearts' league season was there on show at Tynecastle yesterday.

By Craig Fowler
Monday, 21st October 2019, 12:45 pm
Updated Monday, 21st October 2019, 1:01 pm

There was intensity, tempo, a squad full of players fighting for each other, a willingness to battle and a defence that, having been leaky all season, was watertight for 89 of the 90 minutes.

The only thing still absent was continuous creativity in attack but, seeing as they were up against a Rangers side who'd kept three consecutive domestic clean sheets and recently shut out Feyenoord, that's probably to be expected.

It was exactly what the fans have needed to see from this squad and they backed them heartily throughout the match, especially in the closing stages when the hosts looked just as likely, if not more so, to grab a late winner rather than the heavy pre-match favourites.

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Steven MacLean squares up to Rangers defender James Tavernier late in Sunday's match. Picture: SNS

It's easy to conjure the required determination in games against Hibs, Aberdeen or Rangers. The onus now is on the players to replicate that hunger, desire and urgency when they travel to Livingston and St Johnstone in the next 10 days.

Uche Ikpeazu must look to victimise Alan Lithgow and Jon Guthrie in the same manner as he did Nikola Katic and Connor Goldson. Sean Clare must show the same heart for the fight. The defence must maintain their collective levels of concentration.

This is the base on which to build. The upcoming addition of Steven Naismith, Peter Haring and Jamie Walker can give them a structure capable of rising through the division, but only if they keep these levels.

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There have been too many false dawns; too many moments when those who have been anti-Craig Levein have paused for thought. 'Is this a turning point?' they've wondered to themselves, before witnessing the players put in another lacklustre showing against a team they're expected to defeat.

This is not a defence of the embattled Hearts boss. Far from it. The players have not done themselves justice this season and they must take a share of the responsibility. However, it is the job of a manager to ensure his team are playing at their optimum level more often than not. That has not been the case this season. That hasn't been the case since last October.

Injuries have and continue to be an issue. But against Rangers it proved there is still enough quality remaining in the squad to be much higher than 10th place in the league table, one point behind St Mirren, a team who've scored just five times this campaign. It's time to show that quality.

Even in light of Sunday's performance, a Hampden victory against Steven Gerrard's side can't be expected. What can, however, is at least one victory from the next two league games; something to begin the momentum to take into the busy Christmas period and to instil hope in the fanbase that this campaign isn't necessarily a complete write-off after all.