Late strike by Albertz puts icing on cake for Rangers
23 Dec 1999
IT WAS meant to be a night of celebration and so it was, but for a long time it looked like it would be only of times past.
The present was very much a disappointment for the Rangers fans, who made up the vast majority of the 49,907 crowd, until almost the last kick of the ball when Jorg Albertz, not for the first time, hauled his team out of bother with a left-foot goal that earned his team the win that gives them a four-point lead in the Premier League race with Celtic.
Now, whatever happens in the Old Firm confrontation on Monday, they will go into the winter break leading the table.
They were rarely in any danger of losing to Hearts, but for almost all of the evening they were unimpressive with their attempts to penetrate a Tynecastle side that clearly came to Ibrox with the first priority to prevent the opposition scoring.
The visitors came agonisingly close to achieving that and, after two defeats in a row, one of them a depressing 3-0 loss to their city rivals, Hibs, they could hardly be blamed for a cagey approach.
Their few fans in the Broomloan Stand had just gone into singing mode when the goal that ended their fun brought delirium all around them.
It can be a cruel business, even at this time of year.
A massive birthday cake parked on the centre circle reminded the Rangers aficionados that this was the 100th happy return for the great stadium that has seen so many nights and days of triumph.
The preamble before Hearts came on to complete a remarkable circl that began with Rangers beating them in the first game played on this park a century ago, included a message from Rangers chairman David Murray, introduced by Andy Cameron, as well as a Tina Turner lookalike, who mimed in swinging style as the real thing on the screens led the gangs in ''Simply the Best.'' Andrei Kanchelskis gave the packed house a thrill almost immediately after the start when he raced down the right and sent in a superb cross which had Rod Wallace stretching to head, but he was beaten to it by Steven Pressley.
Albertz sent an inviting pass through the middle for Wallace, but the Englishman was defied by a brilliant interception from Fabien Leclercq.
The Hearts line-up, with three at the back and five in the middle, including new signings Gordan Petric, normally a defender, and Fitzroy Simpson, made it difficult for the home lot to make chances.
Colin Cameron earned a booking for a foul from behind on Giovanni van Bronckhorst, but there were signs that the Edinburgh side were gaining in confidence.
Lionel Charbonnier, who last played against Dundee in October, had his first test of the night when he had to look sharp to halt a good shot on the turn by Adam.
The Govan standites became agitated when Gary Naysmith downed Tony Vidmar on the touchline and the Australian had to go off for some treatment.
Referee Stuart Dougal saw nothing untoward, however, and Vidmar returned soon after.
The local fans were put into good humour during the break as Cameron introduced heroes of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.
There were too many to mention - more than 40 of them - but every one was cheered on to the centre line, including Tiger Shaw, Johnny Hubbard, Bobby Shearer, Jimmy Millar, Jim Baxter, Davy Wilson, Willie Henderson, Terry Butcher, and Brian Laudrup.
Pride of place, though, went to a man from a much more distant era, the 30s, the remarkable Jimmy Smith.
At the beginning of the second half Kanchelskis immediately broke clear on the right and sent over a fine cross, which gave Billy Dodds a glimpse of goal, but the striker's shot was blocked by Pressley.
Rangers had an extra forward on for the second period, Neil McCann replacing Vidmar, and Hearts came under severe pressure as the Ibrox side raised the pace of proceedings.
The strain showed on Leclercq, who was booked for persistent fouling after he impeded Wallace.
The best try by Rangers came in 65 minutes when van Bronckhorst tapped a free kick for Lorenzo Amoruso to hit hard and low, but just a shade the wrong side of the near post.
Rangers brought on Gordon Durie for Numan in an attempt to create more problems for the Tynecastle side, but there was no pressure on Adam when he held back Amoruso and was booked for his trouble.
Hearts put on two young strikers, Andy Kirk and Kenny Milne, with 14 minutes left, taking off McSwegan and Adam, and immediately Kirk forced a corner on the left.
That was taken by Simpson and Petric headed it on to the bar.
The Hearts fans had just begun to sing when the roof fell in on them.
in the last minute.
The ball broke to Albertz, whose fierce shot was deflected past Niemi to give Rangers a belated, but much cherished victory.
RANGERS - Charbonnier, Moore, Amoruso, Numan, B Ferguson, Kanchelskis, van Bronckhorst, Wallace, Albertz, Vidmar, Dodds.
Substitutes: McCann, Nicholson, Durie, I Ferguson, T Myhre.
HEARTS - Niemi, Pressley, Naysmith, Locke, McSwegan, Adam, Cameron, Murray, Petric, Simpson, Leclercq.
Substitutes: Rousset, Fulton, Kirk, Severin, Milne.
Referee - S Dougal.
Taken from the Herald