Rangers 2–1 Hearts: And why you shouldn’t worry

by Apr 6, 2015

per-spec-tive n. — an understanding of how aspects of a subject relate to each other and to the whole; a way of regarding situations, facts etc and judging their relative importance; a concept lost of some sections of the Heart of Midlothian support.

Before I proceed with my latest piece, allow me to gauge the type of audience I am addressing. If at any stage during yesterday’s defeat to Rangers you (1) had any negative feeling towards Robbie Neilson, (2) found yourself feeling angry or upset by the team’s second league defeat in 31, (3) found yourself giving even the remotest toss about the result, while forgetting that your team won the league a fortnight ago, or (4) found yourself experiencing all of the above, please leave this page, shut down your computer or mobile phone and proceed to the bathroom for a cold shower. After your shower, go to your bedroom, lie down, sleep on it, and when you wake up, you will hopefully do so with a clearer and more peaceful outlook.

One glance at Kickback on any given day is enough to prove that some sections of the Hearts support are at their most vocal when things go even slightly wrong. In previous seasons, when results and performances were at their most inconsistent, this would be understandable. However, the disproportionate outrage demonstrated by some supporters after the game puzzled me, because nothing actually went wrong. The objective for this season has already been achieved in record fashion. The objective for yesterday was to party, rub their noses in it and do this safe in the knowledge that, in the grand scheme of the season, the actual football at Ibrox mattered not.

Considering the club was a baw-hair from oblivion only a year ago, a number of Jambos have developed painfully short memories and alarmingly high expectations as a result of one successful season. This season has exceeded all reasonable expectations. However, for the team to have lost only its second league game (with the title in the bag) and still elicit such vitriol on social media is extremely worrying. Robbie Neilson said after the game today that the result was a reality check as we prepare for the return to Premiership football. Some Hearts supporters would do well to let that sink in, instead of letting teary-eyed reactions to a meaningless defeat affect their sight of the bigger picture.

For a game of such little importance, yesterday was always going to be more challenging for Hearts than the previous two encounters between the sides. With H*bs faltering for a third successive week at home to Queen of the South, the opportunity to leapfrog them into second place gave Rangers extra incentive to secure a positive result. Under the calamitous stewardship of both McCoist and McDowell, there is every chance an opportunity of this kind would have been squandered. However, Stuart McCall is a far more competent head coach than both of his predecessors combined and looks to have steadied the ship in recent weeks.

As a result, Rangers looked a more organised unit and pressed high up the pitch from the start, a game plan that other teams have used to frustrate Hearts this season. On most occasions this season, the Hearts players have overcome such pressure thanks to their fitness, superior ability and sheer doggedness.

Today, however, they were guilty of being too casual at crucial moments and were caught out by first half goals from Kenny Miller and Haris Vuckic. Cause for concern? Not in the slightest: footballers have off-days. Luckily for those of us in the stands, this particular group of players has not experienced many of them. The Rangers players, meanwhile, celebrated their second goal like they had just won a title, goading a largely apathetic away support with wild abandon.

If not caring about being 2–0 down to Rangers was a strange feeling for the travelling Hearts support, events that unfolded before them on the stroke of half-time would have seemed completely alien, as referee Bobby Madden broke with SFA tradition by sending Lee McCulloch off for one of his trademark elbows. The old cliché says it is often harder to play against ten men, but when Neilson spoke at the start of the season about preparing for a 10 v 11 at Ibrox, it is unlikely he imagined having the advantage in that scenario. I am therefore willing to forgive him for being tactically overwhelmed on this occasion.

With a two-goal deficit to overturn, the prospect of 45 minutes against a centre back pairing of Bilel Mohsni and Agent Zal would have given even the most downbeat Hearts player encouragement. An early Hearts goal in the second half may have been enough to press the Rangers backline into further mistakes, but when the pressure paid off and Genero Zeefuik eventually found the back of the net in the 83rd minute, it was too late to be anything more than a consolation effort.

So to put this defeat into perspective, Hearts are still champions and sit a mere 23 points clear of second place. Robbie Neilson will have also learned more about his players as he prepares for next season’s top flight campaign, when we will witness far more results like yesterday’s. To any supporter who spent time yesterday wallowing in negativity, I recommend a quick refresher course in where the club has bounced back from recently.

Having done so, proceed to the nearest party shop, stock up on balloons and streamers and warm up the vocal chords with a midweek trip to Tynecastle for the Alloa game. Only at this stage will you be suitably prepared to fully appreciate the next stop on the title winners’ road-show at Easter Road on Sunday.

Originally published at maroonspecs.wordpress.com on April 6, 2015.