Clydesdale Bank SPL, Saturday 2 October 2010 - Tynecastle
Watching Hearts-Rangers games these days is akin to watching an old film for the umpteenth time. You know what's going to happen but you just can't help but go along and hope, forlornly, for a different ending. Today at Tynecastle - there was no different ending, just the all too familiar gut-wrenching finale which those of us in maroon have sadly become accustomed to.
The match was covered live by ESPN which meant a ridiculously early kick-off time of 12 noon. Tynecastle wasn't full to bursting and I suspect the time of the kick-off may have contributed to this. Hearts began brightly as they have done in most games this season. Rudi Skacel - making his first start since his return to Gorgie - took advantage of a poor defending from Bougherra and Whittaker to prod the ball into an empty net to give Hearts an early lead. It was against the run of play but no one in the home support was caring.
Rangers had most of the play but, for once, the Hearts defence was resolute with Adrian Mrowiec immense. What a find this player is. Hearts keeper Marian Kello then produced a breathtaking save from Jelavic and Hearts went in at the interval a goal ahead.
Rangers dominated the second half but it seemed the home side would hold out - until the inevitable happened ten minutes from time. Rangers substitute Lafferty drilled home a free-kick which the Hearts defence seemed to make a collective decision to get out the way of. Poor Kello seemed in despair that all his earlier heroics had been in vain. 1-1 and it seemed like a share of the spoils. Until the fourth official advised there would be five minutes additional time at the end of the ninety minutes. Where he got five minutes from was anyone's guess. Or as the fella next to me said 'they'll play on until Rangers get the winner'. Four minutes into stoppage time Hearts Craig Thomson went for a fifty-fifty ball but this was deemed a free-kick by his namesake Craig Thomson the referee. A quite ridiculous decision - and from the free-kick Steven Naismith danced into the Hearts penalty box and poked the ball beyond Kello to give Rangers the winner with very nearly the last kick of the game.
Hearts didn't deserve to win but there's a case to argue they didn't deserve to lose either. Rangers players and officials reactions at the end of the game spoke volumes - they were mighty relieved to get three points. Most Hearts fans knew the script - we've seen this happen with the Old Firm countless times before. Keeper Kello and defender Mrowiec were superb for Hearts. Kevin Kyle had perhaps his least effective game in maroon - he had a glorious chance to put Hearts back in front with five minutes left but blazed his header over the bar.
Hearts now have two weeks to lick their wounds before they - and I - head for Aberdeen. Rangers remain joint top of the SPL and to give them credit they kept going to the end - as they always seem to do. However, for all the talk of foreign players' antics it was disappointing to see Rangers Steven Naismith try his best to persuade referee Craig Thomson to show Eggert Jonsson a yellow card - knowing full well the Icelandic player had already been booked.