Rangers 0 Hearts 0: Banks lives up to Gordon's fine tradition
Sunday 28 January 2007
When you are a goalkeeper called Banks, there is a lot to live up to. Steve Banks protected the famous name yesterday as he defied Rangers at Ibrox to halt the revival under Walter Smith and keep alive Heart of Midlothian's ambitions of Champions' League football.
Banks has spent two seasons at Tynecastle as understudy to Craig Gordon but stepped up to the plate yesterday as the Scotland goalkeeper was curiously dropped to trigger rumours that Hearts are getting ready to sell the £6 million-rated Gordon to an English Premiership club. The way Banks denied Barry Ferguson on two crucial occasions would have been applauded by Gordon.
The draw allowed Hearts to keep on Rangers' coat-tails, along with Aberdeen, in the race for second place in the Scottish Premier League. Paul Hartley was also left out of this contest, prompting speculation that he too would be sold before Wednesday. Whether this was Vladimir Romanov merely protecting his assets or meting out the final punishment to the pair who rebelled in October along with the erstwhile captain, Steven Pressley, was not clear but only Hearts could approach a game they had to win to further their ambitions of Champions League' football by dropping their two best players.
Ironically, Hearts had only won once against Rangers since Romanov set up his dynasty at Tynecastle two years ago, but their first-half display was the most solid they had been in the recent encounters. Banks produced the most influential contribution in the 27th minute when he got down to his left to palm away Ferguson's netbound shot and then the centre-back Christophe Berra swiftly hooked the ball away from Kris Boyd.
Walter Smith gave a debut to his new recruit Ugo Ehiogu and the former Middlesbrough player looked rusty in the opening stages, giving away a foul which allowed Bruno Aguiar to curl a free-kick for the goalkeeper Allan McGregor to save. A stalemate on a badly rutted surface was no surprise at half-time.
The second half, in contrast, was one-way traffic as Hearts tried to absorb the constant pressure. However, most of the efforts foundered on the rock that was Berra, as the Scotland Under-21 cap showed why he is regarded as the successor to the departed Pressley.
The only occasions that Hearts seemed vulnerable was when Ferguson's bursts carried him behind the visitors' defence. The Rangers captain looked to have timed it right in the 65th minute when he beat the offside trap and rounded Banks, but dragged the ball too wide to finish.
He then had the ball in the net with 13 minutes left as a vibrant counter-attack saw the industrious Nacho Novo release Chris Burke whose low cross was swept in by Ferguson but from an offside position. And another linesman's flag interrupted Ferguson's diving header in the furious finale, but Banks pawed the ball to safety anyway to protect the point.
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