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Rangers 1 Hearts 2: Tilting at windmills

There was a contentious moment to distract the fans.

Hearts keeper Jamie MacDonald winces after coming off worse in a challenge from Andrew Little            Photograph: Stewart Attwood
Hearts keeper Jamie MacDonald winces after coming off worse in a challenge from Andrew Little Photograph: Stewart Attwood

After awarding Hearts a second-half penalty, referee Crawford Allan was hounded off the pitch at the end. The rage he provoked was genuine enough, but it also served as a diversion from the financial troubles that surround Rangers. Anger could be released, and it might even have felt like a form of therapy.

The grumbles continued into the aftermath, and one fan shouted abuse at Andy Walker as the former Celtic striker walked through the main stand. He was at the ground on duty for Sky Sports, and could probably shrug it aside as a moment of inopportune timing. Even so, the details of this match are inconsequential in the grand scheme of Rangers' fortunes.

"I'm happy with the result, not because we won but because we didn't win our last seven games," said Paulo Sergio, the Hearts manager. "But I don't want to speak about it out of respect for the professionals of Rangers and the problems they are facing."

Spirits are renewed more readily than finances. For the second time since Rangers fell into administration three weeks ago, Ibrox was all but full to capacity. Supporters, like the players, found the minor circumstances of a match distracted them from the troubles that surround the club. Groups of fans carried flags around the perimeter of the pitch before kick-off, and the purpose was to generate a spectacle that might head off any foreboding.

The support for the team was unqualified, even if unresolved issues still cause fans to be alarmed. The likelihood is that between six and 11 players will be made redundant tomorrow, but the occasion was not valedictory.

There was an angry defiance about the supporters two weeks ago when Kilmarnock won at Ibrox. Conciliation was not evident, but the mood was rousing in an orthodox way. The home fans lauded their team, and in particular McCoist, whose resilience has been unstinting. His name was last sung so readily around these parts when he was in his pomp as a predatory striker.

Even in the uncertainty about their futures, the players dredged up a competitive edge. Some have been marginal figures up until now, but the obligation remains to maintain old standards. There is a novelty in seeing a player as ungainly as Salim Kerkar still being lauded by fans as a cult hero. Andrew Little and Rhys McCabe, two young players, were not cowed by the occasion, and the latter was bullish in midfield, snapping into several challenges.

He might also have scored, from Kerkar's cross, if goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald had not blocked from close range. Hearts brought their own concerns into the game, and they were unable to match the earnest approach of the home side. Refinement was absent, but there was little demand from either set of fans for this to be a showpiece. Steven Davis opened the scoring when his shot, from Little's cross, was fumbled into his own net by MacDonald, but it was still greeted with a surge of triumph by the home fans.

Any sense of improvement was superficial, however. Rangers remained determined, but the performance was generally mundane. Hearts brought on Craig Beattie at half-time, and although bulky and not seeming reliably fit, his pace and conviction troubled the home defence. Agitation spread through the Rangers backline when the ball fell into the penalty area, but Carlos Bocanegra reacted smartly enough to clear Scott Robinson's header off the line. The American could still rue the misfortune that the ball dropped straight to Ian Black, who steered an accomplished shot beyond Allan McGregor.

"I saw the goalkeeper a few yards off his line," the Hearts midfielder explained. "I sympathise with the Rangers players, but we worked hard for the result."

Compassion will be in scant supply among rivals. The goal revived Rangers, though, and Lee McCulloch felt he merited a penalty when barged to the ground while challenging for a high ball. The feeling of injustice contributed to the fury that greeted the award of Hearts' penalty later and angry square-ups between the players afterwards.

Dorin Goian was the player penalised by referee Allan, for having his arms wrapped round Andy Webster at a corner. Jamie Hamill's spot-kick was saved by McGregor, but the full-back converted the rebound. The Rangers players could have been forgiven a sense of moroseness. Every possible setback is now being encountered.

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