A STIRRING Hearts performance clinched this full-blooded clash on the opening weekend of the season as the Jambos repeated the scoreline against the Glasgow giants which secured them Scottish Cup silverware three months before.
New Rangers boss Dick Advocaat encountered a team pumped up to the maximum by Jim Jefferies and in unforgiving mood. The pace of Hearts’ attack was Jefferies’ major weapon and the Rangers defence was scythed open time and time again in the first half.
On six minutes, Neil McCann skinned makeshift right-back Rino Gattuso but his tame low cross should not have posed too many problems. Arthur Numan, however, let the ball go behind him and, as he stretched in vain, there was Stephane Adam to smash the ball ruthlessly past future Tynecastle hero Antti Niemi.
Jonas Thern was caught faltering for the second goal as Hearts threatened to run riot. Adam was the provider, leaving Thern stranded, and he played the ball through to Jim Hamilton, who scored with a clinical, angled drive after 20 minutes.
Without Niemi’s acrobatic double save from the two goalscorers, Hearts would scored a third seconds later. But Rangers pulled one back when Gordon Durie headed Thern’s cross from the right down into the path of Giovanni van Bronckhorst. The Dutchman’s miscued right footer went straight into the path of Rod Wallace who dispatched a shot low past Gilles Rousset.
The best equalising opportunity fell to Van Bronckhorst when he sent a diagonal skimmer off Rousset’s left-hand post. Andrei Kanchelskis replaced Thern at the interval but his midfield should have been instructed to pass to him.
When they did, it was young Gary Naysmith who won the battle, blocking the Russian from shooting in injury time.
Of far greater nuisance was Wallace, who shaped for the spectacular with an overhead kick and had a 20-yard chance made for him by Durie’s lay-off. Both flashed over the bar and, later in the game, he was denied by Rousset’s point-blank reactions in a scramble. Jorg Albertz swerved in a special, Rousset parried, but Numan mis-kicked and Hearts held on.
Hearts: G Rousset, G Naysmith, D Weir, S Salvatori, P Ritchie, N McCann, S Fulton, S Adam (G Murray, 86), J Hamilton, G Locke, T Flogel. Subs not used: K Milne, D Holmes, J Quitongo, R McKenzie.
Rangers: A Niemi, S Porrini, A Numan, G van Bronckhorst (G Amato, 65), G Durie, J Albertz, J Thern (A Kanchelskis, 46), I Ferguson, R Wallace, G Gattuso, C Moore. Subs not used: M Brown, B Nicholson, T Vidmar.
Referee: Hugh Dallas.