Hearts 0-2 Rangers (18 May 2003)
VITAL end-of-season matches against Hearts were not a new thing for Alex McLeish and his squad.
Rangers travelled to Tynecastle on the second last day of the 2002/03 season tied neck-and-neck with Celtic in the race for the SPL championship.
Following the Parkhead side’s win over Dundee earlier in the week, the Light Blues knew nothing less than a victory here would be good enough if they were to remain in title contention and they duly achieved that through second-half goals from Ronald de Boer and Peter Lovenkrands.
It was a nervous afternoon for Rangers players, management and fans alike, not helped by Shota Arveladze missing a penalty with the scoreline still blank.
His team-mates, however, would soon get him out of a pickle to haul Rangers level with Celtic in terms of both points as well as goal difference, with the Light Blues assuming first place on the basis of having scored more goals.
McLeish admitted he feared the worse when Arveladze missed his spot-pick but was pleased with the way the Georgian soon recovered from the set-back to help set up a dramatic final-day decider.
“I couldn’t believe it when the penalty was saved. You start to think the title race was slipping away,” he said.
“But we scored a vital goal right after that and Shota played his part in the build-up. Peter’s goal then gave us a real chance of doing something the following week.”
Steven Thompson, who came on as a substitute for Michael Mols, recalled: “It was a very tense afternoon but it was much harder to watch from the bench.
“Hearts played very well in the first half and created more chances but we were more attacking after the break and in the end we got what was a massive, massive result for Rangers.
“You don’t want to know what was going through my mind when Shota missed the penalty but I knew there was time left and that we were starting to put on a lot more pressure.
“We said before the game that we didn’t need to score in the first minute – the last would do.
“But when Shota missed it was hearts-in-mouths stuff and it was great to see Ronald’s goal going in.”
Any doubts over Hearts’ commitment to this match – with their European place as good as already sealed – were answered throughout a torrid match in which they harried Rangers at every given chance allowing the Ibrox men no chance to rest on the ball.
Rangers seemed ill at ease trying to cope with this energetic approach from their opponents and, with their usual passing game disrupted, failed to create many clear-cut chances.
To add to their frustration, what fluid manoeuvres they could conjure up were regularly halted prematurely due to a figure in Light Blue – Mols more often than not – wandering into an offside position.
Mikel Arteta struck the top of the crossbar with a cushioned drive after only three minutes but it was to prove something of a false dawn as goalkeeper Tepi Moilanen was rarely troubled again during the remained of the opening period.
The hulking figure of Mark de Vries was proving to be a real menace for Lorenzo Amoruso in an intriguing aerial battle while Graham Weir was simultaneously keeping Craig Moore occupied.
Hearts’ first attempt of a frantic first half came from the boot of Scott Severin whose powerful free kick was touched over by Stefan Klos before Barry Ferguson had a speculative effort deflected wide for a corner.
The Tynecastle side hadn’t managed a single goal against Rangers in four attempts that season but must have thought they were going to break their duck just before the break when de Vries slalomed across the penalty box only to see Klos brilliantly parry his shot on goal.
With anything less than a win inconceivable, Alex McLeish replaced the ineffective Arteta at half-time with Lovenkrands to try to bolster Rangers’ lacklustre forward line.
The match sprung once more into life shortly after the hour mark when Rangers were awarded a penalty when de Vries handled Fernando Ricksen’s corner right in front of ref Hugh Dallas.
After his double miss at Dundee two weeks previously, Ferguson passed the responsibility to Arveladze but the Georgian was to fare no better than his captain as his weak side-footed attempt was well blocked by Moilanen.
Arveladze’s redemption was to come just two minutes later when Rangers belatedly went in front.
Stephen Hughes slid a ball through to the former Ajax frontman and his cross was met at the near post by de Boer who powered a header into the roof of the net.
The elation – and relief – among the massive away support in front of Moilanen was almost tangible and they had further good news for them after 72 minutes when Rangers went further in front.
A long ball from Klos was nodded on by Amoruso into the path of de Boer whose cut back was gleefully slammed into the net by the on-rushing Lovenkrands.
With Hearts’ resistance seemingly finally broken, the Light Blues poured forward in search of further goals and Arveladze shot tamely at the goalkeeper after sub Steven Thompson had put him clean in on goal.
The home side came close to narrowing the deficit with just seven minutes after Amoruso mis-judged a threaded ball allowing de Vries a sight but Klos was alert to the danger and saved well from the Dutchman.
No further strikes followed for either side but the result left Rangers in pole position in the title chase with just one game remaining.
In one of the most dramatic afternoons ever witnessed in Scottish football, the Light Blues’ 6-1 win over Dunfermline was enough to clinch their 50th title by a single goal.
One week later and Lorenzo Amoruso’s header sealed a 1-0 Scottish Cup Final victory to complete a memorable treble.
HEARTS: Moilanen; Neilson, Pressley (Simmons 75), Webster, Maybury; Boyack, Macfarlane, Severin, Valois (Kirk 77); Weir (McKenna 64), de Vries
Subs not used: McKenzie, Mahe
RANGERS (4-3-3): Klos; Ricksen, Moore, Amoruso, Numan; Arteta (Lovenkrands 46), Ferguson, Hughes; de Boer, Mols (Thompson 63), Arveladze
Subs not used: McGregor, Malcolm, Caniggia