Hearts attack shocks Ibrox

Rangers 0 Heart of Midlothian 3 Johnston 6, 61, 83 Attendance: 45,096
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SO IN THIS strangely competitive title race we begin to learn more about the two contenders. Hearts have had their chance to influence matters this week; after leading Celtic in midweek then losing to two late goals, they lifted themselves and outplayed Rangers yesterday with a combination of pace, desire, tactics and sheer impudence.

Rangers had not conceded a goal in eight league games and had not been behind since mid-November. When Allan Johnston scored the first of his three strikes the champions faced a real test. Could they emulate Celtic's habit of clawing back matches, turning encroaching defeats into glorious victories?

No they couldn't. Without Paul Gascoigne they were decidedly mediocre, enjoying possession but lacking imagination. They turned to Brian Laudrup for inspiration but when his chance came on the half-hour his poor effort was blocked by Giles Rousset's legs. Whenever they threatened, the former Rangers defender Dave McPherson cleared into touch in his own uncompromising manner.

Hearts have leapt from bottom of the league to challenging for Europe in a matter of 10 games. Today their harrassment and speed on the break unsettled a Rangers side unused to such maltreatment. Their diminutive strike force of John Colquhoun and Allan Lawrence tormented the larger Ibrox defence, snapping at their feet like piranhas.

Colquhoun's pressure on Gordan Petric led to the first goal as he stole the ball and raced down the left. A one-two with Lawrence and his cut- back gave Johnston the chance to sidefoot Hearts ahead after six minutes.

As Rangers pushed forward looking for an equaliser the Edinburgh side looked frighteningly dangerous on the break. They should have scored on the hour when Andy Goram denied Lawrence and Colquhoun shot wide with the rebound. A minute later Johnston made sure.

Neil Pointon found Johnston behind the Rangers defence with a ball which landed right on his toes. He deftly lifted it over Goram for his second.

Eight minutes from time Johnston completed his hat-trick fantasy. Again on the break he ran towards Goram, dragged past the keeper, placed the ball in the net and himself into Hearts folklore. Much of the Rangers support had already left, those from Edinburgh chanted a simple message: "Easy, easy".