London Hearts Supporters Club

Report Index--> 2004-05--> All for 20041128
<-Page <-Team Sun 28 Nov 2004 Rangers 3 Hearts 2 Team-> Page->
<-Srce <-Type Daily Record ------ Report Type-> Srce->
John Robertson <-auth James Traynor auth-> Douglas McDonald
[McAllister Jamie og 45] ;[I Novo 56] ;[I Novo 81]
8 of 011 Paul Hartley pen 16 ;Mark de Vries 66 L SPL A

Rangers back at the summit after long wait but Jambos make sure it's no easy step up

Rangers 3 Hearts 2

By James Traynor

IT had been so long since they had dragged themselves to the top of the SPL that Rangers seemed hesitant for a while yesterday as they tried to take the last few steps to the summit.

But they kept their balance against a gale force of a team which threatened to deny them their progress towards the peak.

It was October 2003 last time Alex McLeish's side occupied top spot, but as recently as October this year no one would have given Rangers any chance of scaling the heights again.

Then they were seven points behind Celtic and labouring, but when the Parkhead side could only draw 2-2 at Dens Park, a game which kicked off an hour earlier, Rangers knew they might never have a better chance to prove they are good enough to regain the title.

Certainly when the referee blew at full-time the Ibrox crowd - just about every one of the 48,494 ticket holders - celebrated as though the championship had just been won.

But although Martin O'Neill's side will be determined to restore what they have come to regard as the game's natural order, McLeish is entitled to believe he is currently in charge of the more confident half of the Old Firm.

Yet it was Hearts who scored first and when Paul Hartley's penalty kick beat Stefan Klos early in the first half it was the first time anyone had scored from the Ibrox spot against Rangers in a league match since Steven Pressley did it in August 1997.

But Rangers summoned up a mighty effort. Their equaliser was actually scored by Hearts defender Jamie McAllister, but a Nacho Novo double with a Mark de Vries goal squeezed in between - the first time Rangers had conceded two goals in a domestic match this season - gave McLeish's men all three points.

Novo has now scored13goal sin12 starts and despite his suspect temperament he is proving to be a key player in this Rangers push.

Hearts, though, contributed to a magnificent game which left the fans breathless and they had some absolute stars in Paul Hartley and de Vries, who gave Jean-Alain Boumsong his toughest afternoon of the season.

John Robertson must have been delighted with this huge, powerful striker, but before kick-off the little manager must have been wondering about the mentality of Andy Webster and Ramon Pereira, who fell out before the game kicked off.

Webster flicked his match programme at Pereira, who reacted and the pair had to be held apart, but both were named in the starting line-up with Robertson hoping his players would turn their energies against Rangers.

They did and the fans were treated to a thundering contest full of delightful touches and terrific individual battles but Rangers won this particular war to stand alone at the top.

With Gregory Vignal injured, McLeish resisted the temptation to play Michael Ball - if he makes three more appearances Rangers will have to pay Everton £500,000, but might want to use him against AZ Alkmaar in Holland on Thursday night - and brought Maurice Ross in at left--back instead.

He didn't look too troubled early on although he provoked his manager to anger when he tried to walk the ball across Klos' box after only 10 minutes.

Marvin Andrews stepped in and cleared without messing about and that's what Rangers would have to do more often because Hearts were dominating in midfield even though Fernando Ricksen thought his sweet pass inside Robbie Neilson after a minute would lead to the first goal.

Peter Lovenkrands ran on to the pass and his delivery across goal was met by Dado Prso,but somehow he managed to miss the open target. His shot flew across the face of Hearts' unprotected goal and ran well wide leaving Prso looking more than a little disgusted with himself.

That, though, was nothing compared to the embarrassment which engulfed Boumsong, who had been strolling through his defensive duties until 14 minutes when his mistimed, and perhaps rash tackle brought the massive de Vries crashing to the ground with a thud.

Referee Dougie McDonald gave Hearts their penalty immediately and then flashed a yellow card at Boumsong - Hearts felt he should have been sent off - as Hartley took the ball and waited for everyone to settle. Then he struck his penalty firmly into the right-hand corner of Klos' net.

First FC Basel and now Rangers. Could Hearts' small band of supporters be about to witness another remarkable result?

They would unless Rangers imposed themselves in the midfield where Hartley and Patrick Kisnorbo were working very hard and driving forward at every opportunity, but eventually McLeish's instructions reached Ricksen and Hamed Namouchi, who closed in on the Hearts pair.

Alex Rae seemed to be concentrating on trying to keep the lively Dennis Wyness subdued and in 31 minutes Hartley was booked for holding up Ricksen's progress on the right. Unfortunately, Hartley also held the Dutchman's jersey.

Prso had another chance, but his long range shot, while powerfully struck, was easily held by Craig Gordon and then a Lovenkrands effort sailed over the bar.

Wyness was slightly late in tackling Zurab Khizanishvili 10 minutes from the break and was unlucky to become the third player booked, but Rangers were beginning to push Hearts deeper with Nacho Novo starting to influence the game.

The little winger danced along the by line and away from two defenders in 39 minutes before lobbing to the far post where Prso threw himself at the ball, but again he was off target.

However, Rangers' pressure paid off two minutes from the interval when de Vries fouled Boumsong.

From the free-kick, Lovenkrands was played forward on the right and when his low ball arrived at the far post Jamie McAllister turned the ball into his own net. After having been forceful for much of the half Hearts had to trudge indoors feeling they were now up against it and their mood wasn't helped when it became clear their skipper, Pressley, couldn't continue.

His place was taken by Christophe Berra and Rangers, lifted by the result from Dens Park, sent 19-year-old Steven Smith on for Ross.

The Ibrox side took the lead 10 minutes into the second half. Khizanishvili clipped a great pass from his own half and all the way over McAllister, leaving Novo in a sprint with Gordon to see who could apply the first touch.

The Spaniard won the race and lobbed the ball into the net.

McAllister was put into the midfield and away from Novo with Kisnorbo dropping back on the left to try to deal with Novo's threat and Hearts also took off Wyness and sent on Graham Weir in 59 minutes.

Seven minutes later Joe Hammill sent a pass into Rangers' box and de Vries got across Andrews and headed into the net. Robertson made another switch, taking off Pereira with Michael Stewart slotting into midfield.

Stephen Hughes took over from Namouchi, who hadn't made much of a contribution, unlike McAllister for Hearts and his cross from the left dropped at the right time for de Vries, who got above Boumsong again but headed over the bar.

At the other end, Andrews' header from Ricksen's corner on the right was slapped away by Gordon at full stretch and, with only12minutes left,no one wanted to leave the stadium, sensing there could be more drama to come.

And there certainly was with Novo scoring again in 80 minutes after Hughes' chipped the ball into the middle from the right.

It was a relief when the game ended because all this drama was becoming too much.Matches like this are wonderful and exciting but do nothing for the blood pressure.

MAN OF THE MATCH Nacho Novo (Rangers)

Taken from the Daily Record

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