RANGERS have finished their SPFL Championship campaign in third place following a 2-2 draw with Hearts at Tynecastle.
With Hibs securing second place after their away victory over Falkirk the result in the capital was irrelevant but Stuart McCall will be disappointed to have seen a two goal lead slip in a game they controlled for long spells.
The Jambos, of course, went into the 90 minutes on a high as champions and they started the match well. Rangers, however, gradually got into their stride and once they edged ahead through Darren McGregor’s header on 32 minutes it looked like it would be a positive day for the Light Blues.
Kenny Miller made it 2-0 before half time with a well-taken strike as Hearts complained that they should have had a penalty at the other end.
This only added more spice to what was an already fiery encounter and after Genero Zeefuik pulled one back in the 81st minute it was the substitute who earned the champions a point at the death.
Rangers will now face Queen of the South in the 3rd v 4th Play-Offs on May 9 (away) and 17 (home).
As expected, the atmosphere in Tynecastle was electric with the Hearts fans out to celebrate their side’s title success and a pipe band adding to the pre-match build-up.
With Lee McCulloch named on the Gers bench and Richard Foster back in, the game started tentatively but on 10 minutes Robbie Neilson’s team carved open their first real goalscoring opportunity.
A difficult pass from Haris Vuckic to Andy Murdoch in the middle of Rangers’ half led to the youngster losing possession to Miguel Pallardo. He threaded a perfect through ball to Jamie Walker but Cammy Bell was quickly off his line to make a superb stop at the winger’s feet.
That was a let-off for the visitors who then produced a good move in the last third themselves. This led to Kenny Miller playing a teasing delivery across Hearts’ six yard box but there were no takers on this occasion.
It was proving to be an entertaining contest between two fired-up sides and on 19 minutes Osman Sow received the first yellow card after he fell too easily in the box for ref Calum Murray’s liking from a Marius Zaliukas’ challenge.
Hearts were now in the ascendancy with Rangers having to be aware of the threat from Sam Nicholson and Walker who were using their pace to break at every opportunity.
At the other end Nicky Clark took a couple of sore knocks, with one in particular from Danny Wilson leaving the forward in considerable pain on the Tynecastle turf.
On the half hour mark the game was at risk of boiling over with Calum Paterson having a couple of bites at Dean Shiels’ ankles before eventually bringing the Ulsterman down to the left side of Hearts’ 18-yard box. From the free kick Rangers took the lead.
Law delivered a curling cross to the back post and Darren McGregor found a yard of space in a congested area before he looped a header into the net.
Before the half was over there was more drama as Hearts and their supporters felt they should have had a penalty on 39 minutes.
Sow used strength to get away from Zaliukas but as he tried to take the ball past Cammy Bell the keeper looked to get a strong hand to the ball and stop what would have been a certain goal.
As the Jambos’ fans shouted ‘cheat, cheat, cheat’ towards the officials Rangers burst forward and scored a terrific breakaway goal.
Law spread the ball out to Vuckic who fed it to Foster who made powerful overlapping run. His low cross was perfect for Miller who calmly slotted the ball into the net before celebrating with his team-mates.
Before the game restarted Robbie Neilson was sent to the stands after directing his anger at Murray and at half time several players argued as they walked towards the tunnel.
As the teams came back out after the break the stadium announcer confirmed the score from Westfield was Falkirk nil Hibernian two which led to the Hearts fans cheering for their great rivals!
It was obviously designed to wind up the travelling Bears but it failed to dampen spirits in the away end of the ground.
The Rangers fans were superb as they got behind their players who were putting in a great shift on their final league outing before the Play-Offs.
The second half was not quite as dramatic as the first until the final ten minutes saw the home side rouse themselves.
With nine minutes remaining, the Jambos pulled a goal back and it was substitute Zeefuik who got it.
The big Dutchman managed to guide an accurate header into the net from Morgaro Gomis’ cross to set up a grandstand finish to a remarkable match.
He was then to secure a final point for his side as he capitalised on a loose ball in the box to fire past Cammy Bell to make it 2-2 late in the game.
HEARTS: Gallacher; Paterson, Ozturk, Wilson, McHattie; Nicholson (Keatings 75), Pallardo (Anderson 69), Gomis, Walker; Sow, El Hassnaoui (Zeefuik 62)
SUBS: Hamilton, Oliver, Keatings, McKay, McGhee
GOALS: Zeefuik 81, 90
RANGERS: Bell; Foster (McCulloch 80), McGregor, Zaliukas, Wallace; Law, Shiels, Murdoch, Vuckic (Walsh 80); Miller (Black 85), Clark
SUBS: Simonsen, Mohsni, Boyd, Hardie
GOALS: McGregor 32, Miller 40