Rangers 1-0 Hearts: Van Bronckhorst's side return to winning ways
Rangers 1-0 Hearts: Malik Tillman scores the only goal of the game as the Gers return to winning ways to ease the pressure on under-fire boss Giovanni Van Bronckhorst
- Rangers had lost their previous two matches in all competitions
- They got back to winning ways thanks to a Malik Tillman goal at Ibrox
- The result eases some of the pressure on manager Giovanni Van Bronckhorst
- Rangers remain seven points behind Scottish Premiership leaders Celtic
A massive 45 minutes for Giovanni van Bronckhorst. How journalists have grown used to writing those words during a troubled few weeks for the manager of Rangers.
In recent weeks boos have become the soundtrack to a period of deep and growing frustration. They dropped two points against Livingston and the fans made their feelings known. They lost in Perth for the first time in 12 years and emotions spilled over. After a scoreless first half when Hearts stifled, contained and frustrated the home team, the reaction was wearily familiar.
When Malik Tillman slammed the only goal of the game into the net after 66 minutes it was the cue for an outpouring of emotion born of joy and relief. A guarantee of no more boos at full-time.
Malik Tillman celebrates putting Rangers in front against Hearts on Wednesday
Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor 6, Tavernier 6, King 6, Davies 6, Barisic 7, Sands 4 (Arfield 45 6), Lundstram 5, Tillman 6 (Kamara 67 3), Matondo 4 (Wright 61 5), Kent 7, Colak 5 (Morelos 66 3)
Substitutes: McLaughlin, Davis, McCann, Devine, Yfeko.
Booked: Kent, Barisic
Hearts (4-5-1): Gordon 6, Atkinson 5 (Forrest 66 3), M Smith 6, Rowles 7, Sibbick 6, Cochrane 6, Halliday 6 (Mckay 55 3), Devlin 5 (Kiomortzoglou 77 2 ) , Snodgrass 7, Ginnelly 6 (Henderson 77), Shankland 4
Substitutes: Stewart, Clark, Neilson, C Smith, Pollock.
Booked: Halliday, Sibbick
Referee: John Beaton
Star Man: Ryan Kent (Rangers)
Ryan Kent recovered from a first half when little came off by jinking away from three players brilliantly, feeding Borna Barisic overlapping on the left flank. A controlled cut-back picked out the on-loan Bayern Munich midfielder to drill the ball through the body of Craig Gordon from 12 yards. The hangman’s gallows were quietly dismantled for another week.
If Rangers played Hearts every game the Rangers support would still be singing the name of their manager without the add-ons. Since the Dutchman took over a year ago Robbie Neilson’s layers have barely laid a glove on the Ibrox side. Rangers have played six, won six, scored 17 goals and lost just one.
In the current climate records count for nothing, of course. Opponents sense their vulnerability. They sense the chance to get the fans on the backs of players and make life deeply uncomfortable. And for Hearts the inability to ask more serious questions here must have felt anti-climactic.
The possession was all Rangers. The action flowed relentlessly towards the Hearts goal. When the time came to make things happen it needed just one moment of magic from the trio of Kent, Barisic and Tillman to claim a precious and welcome three points for the manager. One more win against St Mirren on Sunday and van Bronckhorst will surely be given the chance to press the reset button during the break for the World Cup. An opportunity to get some players back and start the season again.
Writing in his Sportsmail column Brian Laudrup expressed concerns over the body language of the manager. At times the body language of the players is at least as troubling. Confidence, self-belief and conviction is in short supply, the team isn’t firing. In those circumstances a one goal victory was as welcome as the four goals they rattled past the Jambos at Tynecastle. The win was all that mattered. Not for the first time, Hearts barely troubled them.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst has found himself under pressure after Rangers’ recent results
The pressure will have lifted slightly on van Bronckhorst after Wednesday’s result
In their last three league games the Scottish Cup holders had lost the opening goal to Livingston, Aberdeen and Hearts. In two of the three games they dropped points. Opting for the pace of Josh Ginnelly, Robbie Neilson gave the pacey wide man a licence to work the channels and find space for teammates to fire long balls in to space.
The tactic almost worked a treat after six minutes when Snodgrass, so comfortable on the ball, swept a raking long ball in behind the Rangers central defence for the jet propellers of Ginnelly to kick in. Allan McGregor raced from his line, a well-judged lunging challenge doing enough to deny the the winger a chance to tap in the opening goal.
You never really know what’s coming with this Rangers team. Before losing two goals – and the game – to St Johnstone they were full of tempo and running. There was little of that here, a confidence shorn Ryan Kent running down blind alleys time and again.
Only once did the wide man find a pocket of space when he took a pass from James Sands and rolled the ball into the path of John Lundstram. The midfielder swept the ball over the crossbar from 16 yards and a good chance was gone.
After half an hour Craig Gordon had yet to be tested. The Scotland keeper finally saw a bit of action when a James Tavernier corner ran through to Antonio Colak. Omitted from the Croatia squad for the World Cup – club mate Borna Barisic made the cut – the striker tried to guide a sidefoot effort into the net when it needed something more emphatic.
The top scorer, the main source of goals, he fared no better when Malik Tillman’s delightful spin in the Hearts half left a couple of players trailing. Colak scored a similar chance when they rattled four goals past the visitors at Tynecastle. This time Craig Gordon anticipated the striker’s run into space and raced from his line to block.
Ryan Kent shone for Rangers on a night where they struggled to break down Hearts
Malik Tillman almost turned a Ryan Kent knockdown past a stretching Craig Gordon from close range as the second half got underway and you wondered if the penny had dropped. Finally Rangers were showing some urgency and aggression.
It could all have turned so quickly after 49 minutes when Hearts missed their first massive chance of the match. A Rangers favourite in his day Andy Halliday could have lost the affections of the home support if he’d managed to connect with a fizzing low cross from Ginnelly five minutes into the second half. Unsighted by a defender the ball spun through the legs of the Hearts midfielder and ran to safety. Rangers survived.
It was Halliday’s last contribution, making way for another former Rangers player in Barrie McKay.
It was time for the Rangers manager to make a change as well. No position sums up the wretchedness of the club’s recruitment than the right flank. With Fashion Sakala missing, Rabbi Matondo made way for Scott Wright. The replacement’s first contribution was direct and pacey, feeding Scott Arfield for a quick lay-off for Colak. An ineffectual strike failed to test Gordon, but Rangers were ramping it up.
Goals change games. And Malik Tillman’s emphatic finish from a Barisic cut-back relaxed Rangers no end. On for Colak Alfredo Morelos had a real chance to add a second. Hitting his strike straight at Craig Gordon Hearts were still in the game in theory at least. In reality Rangers – and Giovanni van Bronckhorst – would be spared the full-time choir of doom. The win was all that mattered.
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