On a bitterly cold evening in Stenhousemuir, Graeme Murty’s side saw off a dogged Hearts team looking to impress on-looking director of football (and next permanent Jambos boss?) Craig Levein. After using senior players like Philippe Senderos, Danny Wilson and Martyn Waghorn last time out it was a decidedly more youthful Gers side that took to the pitch at Ochilview.
Rangers immediately had an opportunity to open the scoring when Ross Lyon closed down Christopher Hamilton, winning a free kick when the Hearts man pulled him down, but Liam Burt fired against the wall. Rangers did take an early lead however when Jamie Barjonas’ raking cross-field ball found Liam Burt on the right and the hotly-tipped young midfielder fired beyond Kelby Mason in the Jambo’s goal.
The early opener looked as though it may have been the opening of the floodgates as Rangers quickly had several other chances to double their advantage but couldn’t convert. As the half wore on, the hosts started to find a way back into the game and Russell McLean will feel he could have done better with his chances after failing to test Robby McCrorie.
With half an hour gone Zak Rudden had a gilt-edged chance to make it 2-0 but fired his low shot straight at Mason, managing to hurt himself in the process and requiring treatment before continuing.
Hearts will be kicking themselves they didn’t level it on 35 minutes when Christopher Hamilton’s deep cross found Euan Henderson free in the 6 yard box but he couldn’t quite connect. The Jambos got their equaliser right on the stroke of half-time when Russel McLean rose highest to meet a free kick and nestle a header in the bottom corner of the net leaving Robby McCrorie helpless.
Rangers quickly re-established their lead when they won a penalty for a foul on David Bates at a set-piece. Zak Rudden stepped up and confidently sent Mason the wrong way.
The capital side began finding holes in the Rangers defence and suddenly found themselves putting the Rangers goal under pressure but they couldn’t even warm McCrorie’s hands and I’m sure given how cold it was he was hoping they would. There were a number of stoppages throughout the second half as a few of the Hearts players needed some treatment, leading to the second period being much more stop start than the first.
Sub Serge Atayaki almost created the third within minutes of his introduction after a driving run down the right before finding Liam Burt with a fantastic pass. Burt’s first touch was a little to heavy and took the ball away from him and straight to the waiting Mason
As the game began to run away from the hosts their frustyration began to show with a serious of niggly fouls.
Josh Jeffries almost put the icing on it with a fantastic curling strike from the edge of the box which Mason done really well to keep out. The rebound fell kindly to the on rushing Rangers players but they’d stepped out too quickly and were flagged for offside.
Young Finn Serge Atayaki had another run and this time found himself waltzing beyond several Hearts defenders but he could only screw his shot wide with a number of teammates free.
Hearts: Mason, Hamilton, Reid, Jones, Smith, Petkov, Akers Tri, Cochrane, McLean, Henderson, Moore
Subs: Paton, Gajda, Irving, Morrison, Vladislav
Goals: McLean 45+’
Rangers: Robby McCrorie, Ross McCrorie, Beerman, Barjonas, Bates, Wilson, Burt, Gibson, Rudden, Ashmore, Lyon
Subs: Wright, Bradley, Mouanda, Atayaki, Jeffries, Abaradan, Jamieson
Goals: Burt 8’, Rudden 49’