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Rangers 1 Hearts 2: Pain threshold is crossed with injury-time defeat

THIS is time when events are so surreal in Govan that one would not blink if Hughie Green, not Charles Green, entered the boardroom and one would accept without demur that George Soros had plans to build a Nasa-type launching pad on the Albion car park.

Danny Wilson, the Hearts centre-back, rises to head home the opening goal at Ibrox, eight minutes after the start of the second half. Picture: SNS
Danny Wilson, the Hearts centre-back, rises to head home the opening goal at Ibrox, eight minutes after the start of the second half. Picture: SNS

It was sobering then to be introduced to reality at Ibrox yesterday as 43,683 watched a proper, enthralling football match that adhered to the rational tenets of the game - in that the better side won and the best player on the park scored the winner.

A goal in stoppage time from the irrepressible Osman Sow took the points in a compelling SPFL Championship match after Rangers had equalised, also in time added on, through Nicky Law. Danny Wilson, brilliant throughout for the visitors, had headed Hearts ahead early in the second half to give his side the launch pad (sorry George) for the first league defeat of Rangers since Peterhead beat the Ibrox side in April 2013.

The afternoon started sombrely with the renaming of the Govan Stand after Sandy Jardine, a genuine Rangers great. The Barcelona Bears, winners of the 1972 European Cup Winners' Cup, came on to the pitch to bear witness, although John Greig, the captain of that side who left his boardroom post after Craig Whyte took over, remained in the stands with the members of Jardine's family.

The afternoon continued with roars as the League 1 championship flag was unfurled. It ended in boos from the home support, however, as Rangers' failings were exposed under the grey skies.

As Hearts fans sang in the corner after 96 minutes of playing time that proved increasingly intriguing, there was a moment to reflect on what had happened, and not just in the time added that produced two goals.

The problems for Rangers were fundamental. They defended poorly, shoddily. They also did not make the most of their chances, particularly in the first half. Kenny Miller had the glimpse of an opening when Neil Alexander was clumsy with a pass back. Miller, and Kris Boyd too, had opportunities that they could at least have placed on target. Instead, the best chance for the home side was when a Miller cross-shot was deflected and David Templeton headed over.

Rangers, in an attacking sense, were thereafter reduced to using the blunt broadsword rather than the rapier, with Lee McCulloch thrown forward at the end to try to connect with high balls. Defensively, they were careless, particularly at set pieces, and it was no surprise that Wilson's goal was conceded after Billy King's straightforward corner gave the former Rangers and Liverpool defender a free header. Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager, later cried foul at that goal, citing a push on Lee Wallace, but Rangers had twice lost Wilson at previous corners.

Rangers, too, lack creativity in midfield. The wide players, Templeton and Lewis Macleod, had their moments but acted as if they lacked confidence to commit the full-backs. Ian Black toiled, hampered perhaps by injury, and was replaced early in the second half. The roar of derision that marked Law's announcement of man of the match was only matched by the cry of joy when he equalised.

Hearts, who grew into the match, were well served by every player, although Wilson and Sow were the stand-outs. They rode not only the blow of a late Rangers equaliser but the loss of their goalkeeper, replaced in the second half after sustaining a probable broken cheekbone.

Robbie Neilson, the head coach, had let it be known that his team had trained with 10 men to prepare for a possible sending-off yesterday and his players were robust, with six bookings incurred. Jordan McGhee was almost certainly substituted because his yellow card was about to turn red. Replacement Brad McKay was immediately booked for a foul.

It would be wrong, however, to characterise this as a Hearts performance dominated by crudity. They were tough, unrelenting and committed fouls. They were also organised, brave and increasingly fluent.

They survived difficult moments in the first half to play a controlled game in the second. Morgaro Gomis and Prince Buaben screened the central defenders, picking up Boyd and Miller when they dropped off, and cutting off any attempt to play the through ball. They perhaps overplayed it around their own penalty box but gradually became more pragmatic, with Sow chasing everything.

It was the 24-year-old Swede who fittingly scored the winning goal after Rangers had seemed to salvage a point from a frustrating afternoon. Law's volley from Miller's header had raised both the cheers and hopes of the Rangers fans. But they were undone by the sort of goal that will please Neilson as much as it dismayed McCoist.

Straight from the kick-off, Sow took a neat pass from Sam Nicholson and finished emphatically across Cammy Bell. Darren McGregor, meanwhile, did not seem to have been in position at right-back after coming on as a substitute. As Sow ran to the touchline in jubilation, Rangers players and fans seemed struck by a stunning sense of unreality. It did not take long for the significance to sink in, with boos from the stands and recriminations on the pitch.

The reality is that the journey has just met a steep rise in the road.

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