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Jim Jefferies 2nd <-auth None auth-> Craig Thomson
[K Lafferty 79] ;[S Naismith 94]
10 of 013 Rudi Skacel 12L SPL H

Naismith completes late arrival

3 Oct 2010

BETTER late than never.

It is the moral of Steven Naismith’s Rangers career as much as the Ibrox club’s habit of scoring late winners. Just days after his maiden Champions League goal, the Scotland midfielder continued his long-awaited emergence as a player of genuine worth to his team and his country with the composed finish in the fourth minute of injury time which broke Hearts. It preserved the Ibrox club’s 100% SPL record, and reinforced the mental fortitude of a side which have now had to come from behind in three of those seven matches.

While Rangers celebrated en masse in front of the Tynecastle enclosure, and got pelted with missiles for the trouble, Marian Kello slumped disconsolately to the turf. Whether Hearts deserved a better fate or not yesterday, their Slovakian goalkeeper certainly did. He had pulled off a string of remarkable saves from Nikica Jelavic, Kyle Lafferty and Steven Davis, but could only help Naismith’s excellent finish in off his own post. “I wanted to cry when the last whistle went,” he said. “It was very painful.”

Hearts and their supporters left with further ammunition for their intermittent gripe at officialdom; Jim Jefferies questioned where referee Craig Thomson had found five minutes of injury time, and felt the referee’s namesake should not have been punished for high feet against Sasa Papac in the lead-up to the winning goal. Walter Smith merely felt his side had got their just desserts, however late their salvation had arrived.

“We got what we deserved in the end,” he said. “We dominated most of the game territorially and we had by far the most attempts at goal. But all credit to Hearts, they defended very well and the goalkeeper was a match for almost everything we could throw at him. But we are delighted in the end to get the two goals which at one stage looked a little bit unlikely.”

A lunchtime visit to Tynecastle wasn’t exactly the easiest match Rangers could have got after their Champions League heroics in midweek, the first of five such trips immediately after their European exertions. Further bad news was the unavailability of Lee McCulloch with a groin problem and Kirk Broadfoot with a foot knock, while Jelavic didn’t last the 90 minutes after picking up a knee injury due to a poor challenge by Ian Black. While Smith went to a 4-4-2, it was left to his old sparring partner Jefferies to see the merits of fielding three centre-halves.

Rangers started the game with an urgency that suggested they were all too aware of the potential perils of this fixture. Just nine minutes were on the clock by the time Steven Davis was feeding Jelavic in on goal, and the Croat’s low shot had to be beaten out by Kello. When the Northern Ireland international latched on to the rebound, Ismael Bouzid cleared off the line superbly.

Rudi Skacel’s return to Hearts has been greeted with euphoria, and the way he got beyond the strikers to break the deadlock, it seemed like little had changed in the four years since he left Edinburgh. The Czech took a typical gamble with his run and got the reward when Kevin Kyle flicked a Bouzid pass into his path. Steven Whittaker and Madjid Bougherra both had a shot at averting the danger, but Skacel rode both challenges and poked home from close range. It was reminiscent of a player who scored 17 goals during the 2005/06 season, and enough for Scotland fans to be grateful he no longer plays for the Czech Republic.

Hearts went close through Kyle, but in the main it was their goal which was leading a charmed life. Some neat interplay from Jelavic and Miller saw the Scotland striker round the keeper, but his efforts to score for a seventh successive SPL game were thwarted. Jelavic went even closer when his spectacular scissor kick produced a reflex save from Kello which was as good as any we will see all season.

The pattern of chances persisted into the second period. Sasa Papac whacked a volley off Kello’s post. Jelavic played in Davis but he blazed over. A succession of Rangers attacks were ended illegally, as Hearts names filled referee Thomson’s book.

The last of these was Darren Barr for a grab on Naismith which would have been more in place at Murrayfield. Substitute Kyle Lafferty, on the field only a matter of seconds, squeezed the free-kick around a misplaced wall and into the corner.

Those who thought the game was petering out realised it was only getting started. Kyle headed over from a pinpoint Craig Thomson cross, before Kello continued his one-man act of defiance. First, the Slovak brilliantly kicked away Lafferty’s close-range finish, then he diverted Davis’s hitch- kick on to the post.

He couldn’t keep them out forever. Tynecastle howled when Thomson was deemed to have fouled Papac, and in an instant Naismith was driving 50 yards unmolested and working a one-two with Lafferty. The old Naismith might have panicked and wasted his side’s last chance, but the new version cut inside the otherwise excellent Adrian Mrowiec and fired past Kello. For a moment Jefferies, the man who gave the player his big start at Kilmarnock, might have wished he hadn’t bothered.

Rangers’ Champions League hero, Steven Naismith, celebrates his stoppage-time winner in front of Hearts supporters. Several small missiles were thrown on to the pitch in the dramatic finale, with one coin striking an assistant referee, and the home side may face sanctions as a result.

Taken from the Herald

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