However, the achievement was considerably tarnished by the dismissal of Barry Ferguson which means the season is over for the skipper and he will also miss the fiirst two games of next season.

Albertz was simply awesome as he scored twice and created another goal during a rampaging performance which highlighted all of his best qualities. Lorenzo Amoruso and Arthur Numan were also excellent in what turned out to be a comfortable win.

Both sides finished the game with 10 men as Hearts’ Steven Pressley was also red-carded while Tore Andre Flo notched his 12th goal of the season in his 20th game.

Dick Advocaat’s risky decision to field Ferguson when his captain was just one booking away from a three-match suspension back-fired disastrously when Ferguson was sent off after just 31 minutes.

However, in fairness to Advocaat, who had warned Ferguson not to tackle, it was a quite nonsensical challenge which led to the skipper’s dismissal and the ramifications are severe.

Ferguson went lunging in on former Ibrox defender Steven Pressley with his studs up and caught the Hearts star on the right ankle when the ball was long gone. It looked as though Hugh Dallas was going to issue a yellow but the referee produced the red.

The 23-year-old midfielder now misses the remaining two games of this season against Kilmarnock and Hibs and the first two SPL fixtures of next season. It was his second sending off of the season while he has also collected 15 cautions.

It’s not really been Barry’s season although he has been holding the ship together for most of it.

The crazy thing was Rangers were leading at the time thanks to Jorg Albertz’s fortuitous freekick two minutes earlier and the last thing Ferguson needed to do was dive in.

Scott Severin brought down Rod Wallace on the right side of the Hearts box and with a large wall set-up the Tynecastle side looked capable of dealing with the freekick.

Albertz clipped the ball in with his left foot, Pressley and Antti Niemi got in each other’s way and the ball bounced into the net off the the left hand post. It was a shocking goal from Hearts’ point of view and especially embarrassing for Niemi, who this week collected the player of the month award for April.

However, Albertz and Rangers were not complaining. Their joy was shorlived following Ferguson’s dismissal as Rangers had to reorganise. This they did and Albertz came close to scoring again three times before half-time.

In 37 minutes a thunderbolt freekick hit the left hand post and then hit Niemi but spun to the side and Niemi was thankful to collect. Three minutes later the powerful German slipped past Severin and hammered a left foot shot only inches wide.

Then a minute before half-time The Hammer almost scored direct from a corner when his effort hit the junction of post and bar with Niemi lost again.

In fairness to Hearts, Colin Cameron came close to equalising in the dying minutes of the first half when he caught a right foot shot with some power but Stefan Klos, not for the first time this season, was equal to it.

Hearts, though, changed the complexion of the game a minute into the second half when the found the leveller and there was a large element of fortune about this goal too.

Juanjo, a half-time substitute, crossed from the right and Stephane Adam fired a right foot shot which hit Klos and then rebounded off the French striker into the net.

Craig Levein must have thought his side were right back in it. However, within six minutes his side was reduced to 10 men and lost another goal.

If Ferguson had a bad day, Pressley had a worse one. Having been culpable for the first goal he gave away a freekick in 48 minutes to earn a booking for a challenge on Tore Andre Flo and Rangers punished him severely.

Lorenzo Amoruso blasted the resultant freekick through the Hearts wall. Niemi could only block it and Wallace was onto the rebound to stab the ball into the net.

Things got worse for Pressley when he picked up a second yellow and therefore a red for pulling back Albertz just outside the area and Levein should have known there and then it was going to be a black day for him.

Rangers went on to win thoroughly convincingly with Albertz and Flo taking the scoreline to 4-1 and it could have been more, such was the ease with which Rangers sliced through the Hearts defence.

Flo missed from point-blank range in 64 minutes when shot straight at Niemi following Numan’s excellent work on the left hand side, but he was to make amends for that.

In 73 minutes he played in Albertz on the left side of the box and and The Hammer did not need any enouragement to bury a left foot shot in the right corner.

With six minutes remaining, Albertz returned the compliment with a delightful chiop forward which released Flo racing in on Niemi, pursued in vain by Kevin McKenna.

The Norwegian made it look simple as he clipped a right foot shot past the former Ibrox keeper and then raced to take the adulation of the Rangers fans. It was a fitting way for Rangers to clinch qualification to the Champions League but the victory was tarnished by Ferguson’s dismissal.

Advocaat took to the field at the end to applaud the supporters. He knows it has been a tough season for them but at least a return to top European action was secured.


HEARTS: Niemi; Flogrl, Pressley, McKenna, McCann; Boyack (Juanjo 45), Cameron (Makel 45), Severin, Tomaschek; Kirk, Adam (Wales 70). Subs not used – McKenzie, Webster.

Sent off: Pressley (52) 

RANGERS: Klos; Moore, Konterman, Amoruso; Ricksen, Reyna, Ferguson, Albertz, Numan; Flo, Wallace. Subs not used – Christiansen, Dodds, Wilson, Lovenkrands, Kauppila,

Sent off: Ferguson (31)

Bookings: Amoruso (22)

Ref: Hugh Dallas.

Att: 15,158

Man of the match: Jorg Albertz.

Moment of the match: Albertz provided most of them, but his chip to release Flo was the best.


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