Football: Hamilton inspires Hearts

Heart of Midlothian 2 Rangers 1
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The Independent Online
THE NEW Scottish Premier League lived up to its billing on the first Sunday night action of the season. We were promised something different with the new regime and that is what we got, with Hearts claiming victory against one of the Glasgow clubs, a feat they failed to achieve in last season's League campaign.

The last meeting of these two clubs saw Hearts win the Tennents Scottish Cup final and in similar vein Rangers had most of the game yesterday, but Hearts took the glory.

Hearts wasted little time on formalities far less showing deference towards Rangers' summer collection of players. The increased confidence from that Scottish Cup win was immediately apparent and within five minutes the home side had taken the lead.

Jim Hamilton found Neil McCann on the right and, although his low cross appeared to carry little danger, the Rangers defence was missing as the ball fell to the feet of Stephane Adam, who prodded it over the line from close range.

Rangers were in trouble again seven minutes later when a long ball by Gary Locke freed Adam beyond the visitors, defence, but a poor second touch allowed the ball to run to Antti Niemi, the Rangers goalkeeper.

Those early lapses stirred Rangers slightly but, despite some pretty midfield passing movements, there was no real penetration against a determined Hearts defence. Jorg Albertz was operating on the left and Rod Wallace on the right, with Gordon Durie in the middle. However, the closest they came in that opening period was a diagonal shot across the goal mouth from Albertz.

Slackness in the Rangers defence allowed Hearts the opportunity to increase their lead in the 20th minute. Jonas Thern lost possession at the edge of the penalty area, the ball reached Hamilton, who side-stepped a challenge and shot into the corner of the net. Within seconds of that second goal, Niemi was called into spectacular action to prevent his side going further behind. His first save was excellent, as he dived to his left to push out a shot from Hamilton and he retained his wits sufficiently to deal well with a return shot by Adam.

Seven minutes later, Rangers forced themselves back into the game, but in bizarre circumstances. Giovanni Van Bronckhorst aimed a shot from the edge of the area but screwed the ball well wide.Fortuitously for Rangers, the ball fell into the path of Wallace, whose first time shot found the far corner of the net.

Still the defensive lapses continued at the other end, Craig Moore being caught in possession in similar fashion to Thern but Niemi produced a brave save to deny McCann.

Rangers attempted to seize the initiative by replacing Thern with Andrei Kanchelskis at the interval and were able to move forward against a Hearts side that appeared increasingly content to stand their ground defensively.

The early chances in the second period fell to Rangers, who were by now finding some of the fluency that had been missing in the first 45 minutes. Durie shot wide, Wallace attempted an overhead kick and a Kanchelskis cross was left by Wallace but there were no takers.

In the 65th minute, Rangers made another change by bringing on Gabriel Amato, their Argentinian striker, in the hope that he would put himself on the end of their moves, but to no avail.

Hearts (4-4-2): Rousset; Locke, Weir, Ritchie, Naysmith; Flotel, Salvatori, Fulton, McCann; Adam (Murray, 85), Hamilton. Substitutes not used: McKenzie, Quitongo, Holmes, Milne.

Rangers (5-4-1): Niemi; Gattuso, Moore, Porrini, Numan, Wallace; Thern (Kanchelskis, h-t), I Ferguson, Van Bronckhurst (Amato, 65), Albertz; Durie. Substitutes not used: Vidmar, Nicholson, Brown.

Referee: H Dallas (Motherwell).

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