London Hearts Supporters Club

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Jim Jefferies 2nd <-auth auth-> Iain Brines
Jonsson Eggert [K Lafferty 53] ;[K Miller pen 84]
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Hearts 0-2 Rangers: JJ laments lack of goal threat

Published Date: 19 April 2010
WHAT a difference three weeks makes. Hearts were picked off like cherries from a tree last month when Rangers visited Tynecastle and left with a comfortable 4-1 victory.
Not a bead of sweat appeared on the brows of those in blue on that occasion as their hosts' hospitality extended to gifting needless goals. This time was another story.

There was discipline and purpose to Hearts' play at Ibrox yesterday as they confidently stroked the ball around and instilled definite nervousness in their opponents whenever they ventured forward. Unfortunately, meaningful attacks were all too infrequent. Rangers hardly pummelled their Edinburgh guests into submission over the 90 minutes, but they did enough to prise three crucial points and take another stride towards the SPL title.

That Hearts finished with ten men was a harsh subplot to an unfortunate defeat. Eggert Jonsson was dismissed six minutes from full-time for pushing Steven Naismith in a race to reach Nacho Novo's cross first. If it was a professional foul, it was one involving minimal contact which would barely have warranted a free-kick outside the penalty area. In any case, there was no guarantee Jonsson or Naismith would have reached the ball, so venomously had Novo delivered it across goal.

But given the identity of the match official it was no surprise to see a disconsolate Jonsson trudging off with a penalty awarded to Rangers. Kenny Miller duly converted to put his side 2-0 ahead, complementing Kyle Lafferty's powerful 53rd-minute header. Hearts fans and players adore Iain Brines the same way credit crunch victims adore investment bankers' bonuses. Aside from Jonsson's red card, Brines administered five yellows yesterday, all to Hearts players. That told its own story.

Gripes over his officiating are nothing new to those at Tynecastle, although yesterday they could not mask the fact Rangers just about deserved their victory for the simple reason that they possessed the ability to score. For longer than this correspondent can remember Hearts have toiled without a genuine natural attacking presence, and this department was their only letdown at Ibrox.

"We had two boys up front who are not recognised strikers (Suso and David Obua] and that's the area we need to solve in the summer. The difference was in the final third," said Jim Jefferies, the Hearts manager. "We didn't set up negatively and I thought Kingston used the ball quite well. In the last third we petered out.

"I don't think Kenny Miller or Kris Boyd had their best games but they are always dangerous. We didn't have that because we don't have boys with the instinct of natural strikers. Obua has done great but he is not a natural striker. Suso tried his best and the rest are just young boys. There's a basis of good side there, I felt we worked hard and passed the ball well.

"I was quite happy with our passing and I thought we played well in the first half. When we got in behind Rangers I thought Craig Thomson took an extra touch. There was one situation where, if he'd played it first time, we could have had a tap-in and gone in front. But we were very comfortable."

Indications at the interval were that the visitors were emerging from their collective shell, helped by occasionally nervous and wayward Rangers passing. Larry Kingston was central to everything that was positive about Hearts at that stage. However, eight minutes after the restart one lapse in concentration carried devastating consequences.

"We said at half-time, as we always do at Ibrox, that Rangers would up the pace for ten or 15 minutes at the start of the second half," said Jefferies. "David Obua was marking Lafferty at Kevin Thomson's corner, he let him get away and he's punished us. The first goal was always going to settle Rangers down. Had we got it they might have been a little bit nervous. Our players are saying the penalty was soft. They said the pace of the ball was going to beat Naismith."

Jefferies' frustration was shared by Ismael Bouzid, whose appearance in defence yesterday was his first since February after recovering from hamstring problems. "Rangers got the first goal, then we got the red card and we lost control of the game," said the Algerian internationalist. "Our first half was very good but the second was bad. We must forget the second half and take positives from the first. We were very strong but losing the first goal from a corner was very bad. If you lose the first goal you need to do something more to get back in the game. If you don't score you don't win and don't take any points."

Such was Hearts' fate, but the prospect of European qualification remains with Hibernian and Motherwell both losing over the weekend. "Of course we are still going for Europe," said Jefferies. "Hibs are six points ahead of us. Next week, if Rangers beat them for the title and we win at home then we still have them to play. We play Motherwell next week and we're at home for three of the last four games. We have a lot to play for."

Individually, the same could be said for Kingston. The Ghanaian midfielder's contract expires in a matter of weeks and on Friday he outlined his desire for an extension. An utterly peerless midfield display at Ibrox does his case no harm. "Outstanding," continued Jefferies. "He took the ball, controlled it, passed it and switched play. I was really pleased with him."

But will he be offered a new deal? "I've not decided," said the manager. "Everybody keeps hitting me with these questions but there are a lot of issues. Wage bills have to be cut and it might be that I want to keep him and we make him an offer and he doesn't accept it. It's the same with one or two others who might have opportunities to go elsewhere. It's going to be a busy time between now and the end of the season."

Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, also has a demanding schedule as he attempts to secure the league championship before possibly moving into retirement. "I was just delighted to win, that was the aim," he said. "We had a slow start in the first half and it was as poor as we've been at home for a while. Once we lifted the pace and got a goal we could have added more. It was a better second half than first from us.

"We only have two games at home in the split and you need to make best of them. At one stage we didn't look like we were going to do that. When you're going to win a championship you look at your own results. We now go to Easter Road hoping to get a win there, that's how we approach it."

Smith's comments on Rangers' toil in breaking Hearts down emphasises the improvement in the Tynecastle side since the clubs last met. That will now be tested to the full during the final four games of the season, with a place in the Europa League qualifying rounds the ultimate prize.

Taken from the Scotsman

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