Ten-man Hearts have lost 2-0 to Rangers in the Scottish Premiership thanks to two goals in four first-half minutes as the league leaders survived a number of scares in the second 45 to take three points back to Glasgow.
The Jambos almost took a third-minute lead when Liam Boyce got in between the Rangers centre-backs and tried to deftly lob the ball over McGregor – only for the Ibrox veteran to produce a fantastic save to tip it over his bar and out for a corner.
However, it was Rangers who took the lead on nine minutes through Alfredo Morelos, the Colombian firing home after some excellent work by Ryan Kent and Fashion Sakala carved the Hearts defence open and allowed Morelos to net his eleventh goal of the season.
It was almost 2-0 moments later, Kent again causing massive problems for Hearts but Sakala couldn’t get his effort on target as Craig Gordon came charging from his line and closed the angle for the Zambian.
🎙️ "This is a man at the top of his game at the moment!"@RangersFC are running riot! 💥
Stunning ball from Goldson, and Aribo doubles Rangers' lead with an emphatic finish 👏 pic.twitter.com/8D5O4eISUF
— Sky Sports Scotland (@ScotlandSky) December 12, 2021
With Hearts all over the place after Morelos opened the scoring, it quickly 2-0, Joe Aribo doubling Rangers’ lead with a smart finish after he left John Souttar for dead with a late run.
The defending from Hearts was all over the place and the hosts were every bit as responsible for the scoreline as Rangers, simply leaving the door open for Rangers to score twice in close order.
The was a bit of a response from Hearts after going 2-0 down, Barrie McKay and Gary Mackay-Steven causing some problems for the Rangers defence without really making McGregor work too much in the opening half.
By the time the teams made their way off at the break, there wasn’t a huge amount between the two and Robbie Neilson must have been wondering where the game could have been but for the five-minute shambles that saw Rangers score twice.
After the restart, Hearts looked much brighter, Mackay-Steven going close and forcing a good save from McGregor before Calvin Bassey survived a huge scare when his block sent the ball crashing off the underside of the bar before Rangers cleared the danger.
Robbie Neilson’s side were pushing hard and making life much harder for Rangers than they had in the opening 45, Barrie McKay next to try his luck as the former Rangers winger looked to net his first goal for his new club.
Craig Gordon was back in action just before the hour mark, making a smart save to deny Morelos and keep the deficit at two before coming to the rescue again when he stopped Sakala’s deflected effort.
Hearts had a shout for a penalty with 25 minutes to go, Mackay-Steven’s effort hitting the hand of Connor Goldson but referee Nick Walsh didn’t give it despite clearly striking the defender’s hand.
The chances kept coming as Hearts tried everything to get back into the game, Kingsley rattling McGregor’s crossbar from 35 yards with a free-kick that looked as though it was sailing just under the bar.
With ten minutes to go, Josh Ginnelly was sent off after he was shown a second yellow card for a row with Borna Barisc after the Croatian was on the receiving end of a late challenge from Cammy Devlin.
Hearts hit the bar a third time in the closing stages, Liam Boyce this time shaking the frame of McGregor’s goals he followed up on Ben Woodburn’s strike at goal.
Rangers would go on and see out the final minutes and secure their win and Robbie Neilson will have plenty to pore over in the coming days as he prepares to face Dundee next Saturday.
Here are three talking points as Hearts and Rangers went head-to-head at Tynecastle:
Charity effort honouring late legends fantastic from both clubs
Both sides went through their warm-up wearing special t-shirts honouring Mariusz Zaliukas and Fernando Ricksen as Hearts and Rangers united to raise awareness for MND Scotland pre-match. Both clubs have been impacted by the disease over the last few years, with ex-Hearts and Rangers midfielder David Hagen also passing away after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. With fans of both sides taking part in bucket collections before the match too, they deserve huge credit.
Supporters can donate £5 to MND Scotland by texting CUREMND to 70660.
Hearts’ five-minute collapse must raise alarm bells for Neilson
Two goals in the space of four minutes left Hearts chasing the game before it had really even go going and Neilson must have been wondering what he can do to stop a repeat in future. While the Jambos’ boss had clearly gone for it with his line-up, that doesn’t explain some of the calamitous defending from his players. The second goal, in particular, was just woeful for Hearts to lose from a defensive perspective – Souttar and Halkett seemingly at different ends of Gorgie Road and punished for it.
After making a pretty strong start, conceding two goals so close together killed off almost any chance Hearts had of really making something of the game and turned it into a bit of damage limitation.
Hearts need to rediscover touch in front of goal
Hitting the bar three times in any game is bad luck, doing it against the league leaders is unforgivable. Neilson’s side could have possibly salvaged something from the game had they taken some of their chances in front of goal. Liam Boyce was clinical earlier in the season and Robbie Neilson simply needs to get his forwards firing if they are to maintain any sort of challenge to the top two. Now all attention turns to Celtic Park for Hearts and whether Motherwell can close the gap on the Jambos.
NTOF now offers a YouTube channel featuring exclusive interviews, post-match discussion, in-depth debate, and much more – LIKE and SUBSCRIBE and don’t miss any of our videos.