The Dutch goalscoring renaissance has acquired a new member as Ronald de Boer inspired Rangers to victory at Tynecastle last night, under Dick Advocaat's watchful eye.
Dennis Bergkamp and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink might consider nine goals starvation rations, but Holland's national coach (on loan from Ibrox) knows that four goals in five games make De Boer worthy of England's attention on Wednesday in Amsterdam. However, it was a man ignored latterly by Advocaat, who stole the show. Neil McCann's sublime goal underlined Alex McLeish's rejuvenation of Rangers.
The pace of this absorbing contest left the animated Tynecastle audience breathless after an opening half hour in which there was barely a pause. Control switched from Hearts to Rangers, and back again, not because of capricious players but simply because of the sheer will of both sides to eclipse each other's effort.
Ricardo Fuller wriggled clear of Arthur Numan after just four minutes but the Hearts striker's low shot was kept out by Stefan Klos, who dived down at his near post. Fuller threatened again, soon after, with a raking shot across the face of goal which just eluded the target.
When the Jamaican forward repeated the trick once more, despite having three men around him, Rangers realised they had to shift a gear.
Their response brought the best out of Antti Niemi. The Hearts goalkeeper underlined his impressive season with three saves inside 30 seconds, firstly keeping out Ronald de Boer's header and then Shota Arveladze's venomous volley, before denying the Georgian again.
Niemi then matched those saves in the 20th minute by beating away Barry Ferguson's drive from the edge of the box.
It was kind of resistance which the Finn used to frustrate Germany and help England towards the World Cup finals. His sublime reactions five minutes before the interval, pushed a header from Arveladze over the bar after Neil McCann had carved Hearts apart. Fuller, though, had clipped another effort just wide of Klos's post to signal his persistent menace. His counter attack and cross five minutes into the second half narrowly evaded Gary Wales' finishing touch.
Rangers then delivered a lesson in ruthlessness to go in front after 61 minutes. Thomas Flogel's poor pass was intercepted by McCann and his pass into the feet of Flo was stepped over by the Norwegian to allow De Boer's well-timed run to be rewarded with a right foot finish beyond Niemi from 12 yards.
Hearts were stung, though Fuller believed he merited a penalty nine minutes from the end when Numan baulked the striker. Even before his plea had subsided, McCann broke from his own half, shredded Flogel, then coolly angled a left foot shot past Niemi.Reuse content