RANGERS have suffered a painful Scottish Cup defeat to Hearts, with Oliver Bozanic’s 57th minute goal taking Daniel Stendel’s side through to the semi-final stage of the competition.
After the high of progressing to the Europa League Round of 32 in midweek the Light Blues came crashing back down to earth in the capital this evening and Steven Gerrard’s players cut dejected figures as they walked off the turf and up the Tynecastle tunnel.
Greg Stewart and Joe Aribo were back in the team tonight, with the Gers manager making two changes to the side that started against Braga.
With Flo Kamberi cup-tied having played for Hibs in the earlier rounds of the Cup this season and Alfredo Morelos not in the squad, Stewart got the nod in attack to make his 24th appearance of the 2019/20 campaign and his sixth start. Aribo replaced Ianis Hagi who was named on the bench.
The early stages of the match were tentative as both teams got to grips with the wet playing surface. And on 15 minutes Hearts boss Stendel had to make his first switch when John Souttar was stretchered off with what looked to be a serious injury.
It was unclear what happened to the defender, but the home side’s medical staff immediately called to the bench for a change, with Clevid Dikamona going on.
When the game resumed, both teams went in search of the opening goal but clear-cut chances were few and far between. The first shot of note came in the 21st minute when Allan McGregor dived low to his right to deny Lewis Moore.
That got the home support off their seats and they were up again when Ryan Jack and Michael Smith went for a 50/50 challenge. Referee Steven McLean thought the Rangers player was late and he received the first yellow card of the match.
From the resulting free-kick on the right flank McGregor had to be sharp to tip Steven Naismith’s header over the bar. And from the corner the home side’s number nine Conor Washingston found space in the box but he could only head over on the stretch from six yards.
At the half-hour mark Rangers had yet to register an effort on Zdenek Zlamal’s goal, but Ryan Kent tried to change that when he burst past Smith on the left wing and his teasing delivery flew across the six-yard box with no takers.
On 33 minutes the visitors were then dealt an injury blow of their own, with Scott Arfield walking off gingerly and Sheyi Ojo taking his place in the centre-forward role.
Rangers had a penalty appeal waved away when Kent appeared to be blocked in the box before Stewart, now on the right side of the front three, was released by the lively Kent. He had the option to shoot but cut inside twice and lost control before the danger was cleared.
Jack came close with a volley towards the end of the first forty-five but there was drama in added-on time when Damour clearly used his hands to flick a near post corner into the net in front of the Rangers fans.
The home support thought it was a goal, as did the players in maroon, but it had been spotted by the official McLean and the game remained goalless.
Having already been booked Damour was very fortunate not to see red, with McLean also missing a hand ball from George Edmundson earlier in the half which could, and probably should, have resulted in a penalty for Hearts.
The start to the second half was scrappy and the opening goal on 58 minutes could be described in the same way, with Bozanic finding the net to make it 1-0.
The ball found its way into the Gers box and when McGregor came out Moore skipped past the keeper and cut it back for his teammate who finished into the empty net.
On 63 minutes Hagi replaced Jack, the young Romanian adding another attacking option in the last third of the pitch for the final third of the match.
Kent then brought out a good near post save from Zlamal before Jermain Defoe was also put on, the former Spurs striker replacing Stewart with the clock ticking down.
On 76 minutes, Hearts should have ended the tie as a contest when Edmundson sclaffed a clearance in the box and it dropped to Naismith a yard away. The former Gers forward just had McGregor to beat but somehow put the ball wide of the post.
Edmundson tried to make amends for his mistake, powering two headers over in the last 10 minutes as the visitors pushed every man forward.
It wasn’t enough though, and it was the Hearts players and their fans who were celebrating at the final whistle.
HEARTS (4-4-1-1): Zlamal; Clare, Halkett, Souttar (Dikamona 15), Hickey; Moore (Walker 89), Smith, Damour, Bozanic; Naismith; Washington (Boyce 90)
SUBS NOT USED: Pereira, Irving, Henderson, Meshino
GOALS: Bozanic 58
RANGERS: McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Edmundson, Barisic; Jack (Hagi 63), Davis, Arfield (Ojo 32); Aribo, Stewart (Defoe 65), Kent
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, Halliday, Kamara, Katic
BOOKINGS: Jack, Stewart
REF: Steven McLean