London Hearts Supporters Club

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Anatoly Korobochka <-auth None auth-> Iain Brines
[G Rae 52] ;[B Ferguson 78]
1 of 002 Andrius Velicka 15 L SPL A

Season’s flying finish

WALTER Smith has the look of a man who cannot wait to see the back of this season, even though this win theoretically kept it alive. A decisive goal from Barry Ferguson, which he described as "spectacular", seemed to only briefly lighten his mood as Rangers delivered the victory which spared them the ignominy of handing the title to Celtic by default.

Smith was not doing any cartwheels about that last night as he reflected on the reality of a squad which seems as thin as tracing paper.

Rangers had only three senior outfield players on the substitutes' bench and two in the team - Kevin Thomson and Gavin Rae - who were played wide when they would prefer to be in the middle.

Smith was grumpy when a radio broadcaster asked about the need to strengthen during the summer, groaning that it was a question he had been asked countless times and agreed with on every single occasion.

His spirits would not have been helped by the fact his most influential player yesterday is reaching for the exit door. Dado Prso produced the sort of display which sent pangs of regret around Ibrox. On this evidence, he could have so much more to give them.

Prso feels his knees are no longer up to the SPL, but he helped bring Hearts down to theirs with a display of energy, strength and unselfishness which also eclipsed the striking team-mate he will leave behind, Kris Boyd. "I want the fans to remember me positively," said Prso. "I don't want to finish with them booing or me trying to do more and more that my body won't allow. It is time for me to say goodbye to the fans. It was hard but I have no choice."

Rangers need one more win to ensure they claim second place ahead of Aberdeen. At full-time the stadium scoreboards carried a police message "for the Aberdeen supporters" to remain in their seats, which was presumably meant for the Hearts fans.

They had travelled west and been encouraged by a superb opening goal, only for their team to retreat into themselves and barely create another threat to Allan McGregor. Hearts also have Aberdeen on their minds and are four points behind them in the pursuit of third place and a Uefa Cup spot.

"It was an opportunity missed especially after being 1-0 up," said Hearts coach Stevie Frail.

"It could have been down to a couple of points if we had won. If we show the same level of commitment and work-rate on the ball I think we can cause Celtic some problems at Parkhead next week."

When Hearts took the lead here it was as if a bucket of iced water had been thrown in Rangers' face.

Laryea Kingston set off on a run which took him 60 yards from deep in his own half to the edge of Rangers' penalty area, with players trailing in his wake.

Kingston had the poise to make the run count by laying the ball off for Andrius Velicka to bury it past McGregor with a firm low shot across goal.

It was a tremendous move and hinted at the potential for Hearts to offer much more than the stodgy, physical resistance which typifies their play when they come to Glasgow. But neither Kingston nor his team-mates could build on it.

There was much blunt play from Rangers and a couple of splendid Craig Gordon saves before their narrow hold on the game was rewarded with an equaliser.

Gordon denied a Prso shot on the line moments after a tremendous Lee Wallace tackle had prevented Rae from putting in a shot. Then Gordon reacted superbly to dive and push away a ferocious Sasa Papac header.

That was Papac's last involvement as Christophe Berra's head smashed into his jaw at the moment he unleashed the header.

Papac barely moved after he crashed to the turf and there were a few subdued minutes while he was treated and then stretchered off.

"He seems to be okay although it looked a fairly late challenge that caught him," said Smith. "He was unconscious at the start but he came round and there was no need for him to go to hospital."

Berra admitted his challenge had been ill-timed. "The challenge was a bit late," he said. "I was marking Boyd and Papac was coming late. I never did it deliberately. I hopes he makes a quick recovery."

The cross for Papac's chance was a good delivery from the left by Thomson, but his role summed up one of Rangers' weaknesses. Three holding midfielders - Thomson, Ferguson and Hemdani - is a couple too many and the balance in the centre of the Rangers team is not right.

Nevertheless, the goal came from their other midfielder, Gavin Rae. Alan Hutton made it, beating Lee Wallace before chipping up a delicious little cross on to Rae's head. Rae will probably leave in the summer and his first goal of the season may also turn out to be his last for Rangers, but it was carefully placed across Gordon and inside his right hand post.

Hutton offered another athletic performance from right-back and might even have claimed a goal had he not narrowly failed to connect with a Hemdani free-kick. Ferguson's winner was one of the finest goals he will score. Prso made a forceful run to the line to deliver a cross which deflected off the generally subdued Kris Boyd and out of the penalty box towards Hemdani. A precise header knocked the ball back towards Ferguson, who chested it and adjusted himself to leap and score with a flying bicycle kick.

"I told him afterwards it was the best goal he had ever scored for Rangers," said Prso. "He said there was one when he dribbled past seven players, but I don't remember that "

Hearts' contribution fizzled out thereafter. They collected five unremarkable bookings for fouls or dissent and may have had another one when Saulius Mikoliunas angrily booted the ball into the Rangers dug-out when a decision went against a team-mate. That was an act of petulance which earned him a rebuke from the unimpressed Christos Karipidis.

"I remember Hearts being better than they showed today," said Prso.

Taken from the Herald

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