Rangers assume command

Rangers 3 Heart of Midlothian 1
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The Independent Online
Now that Scots have been reduced to a minority sect at Ibrox, it was surprising that nobody seemed to blush when they raised Rangers' ninth consecutive League championship flag bearing the St Andrew's cross.

But such is the triumphalism at Ibrox that even the chant of "You have more Tims than Celtic" at the Rangers fans, referring to their religious affiliation of Ibrox's four Italians, was taken in good nature by a crowd who in the past might have revolted at such.

Indeed, when Marco Negri scored Rangers' second with a delectable chip, the stadium rose to him. But all the cultural mish-mash could not disguise the poverty of the first half-hour, because Hearts rarely come to Ibrox to entertain but to avoid humiliation. With three of their players booked in the first 25 minutes and with the strategy of crowding out Rangers' main inspiration, Brian Laudrup, you could sense a frustration beginning to develop.

However, Rangers broke out of the impasse in the 38th minute with as an untidy goal as will be seen all season,

Staale Stensaas on the left crossed to Negri, who headed towards goal and although it was stopped by the Hearts goalkeeper, Gilles Rousset, the Italian followed it up and claimed the ball had gone over the line. The referee and his assistant concurred and booked Rousset for dissent. By contrast, two minutes later Negri's second was brilliant when he was put through on the edge of the box and chipped the angry Frenchman in goal to put Rangers two up.

Trailing 2-0 at half-time, Hearts tried to break out of their defensive anonymity, for although Rangers at times look stodgy, Jonas Thern at the heart of their movements covered enough ground and had enough vision to control much of what was happening in midfield and indeed it was Negri who again came closest to scoring in the 64th minute when he toe-poked a delightful Laudrup pass against the crossbar.

He could have notched his hat-trick five minutes later when he was again set up by Laudrup, but from six yards he froze and the chance was missed. The introduction of another Italian, Rino Gattuso, brought the house down when he swept a 50-yard pass in front of Laudrup who was foiled by Rousset at the last.

Thankfully, two Scots scored to redeem the nation's pride. Alex Cleland fired home in the 64th minute for Rangers while Colin Cameron brought some small consolation for Hearts four minutes from time when his goal made it 3-1.

Rangers (3-4-3): Goram; Porrini, Moore (Gattuso, 79), Bjorklund; Cleland, Thern, Ferguson, Stensaas; Laudrup, Negri, Aldertz. Substitutes not used: Durie, Andersen.

Hearts (4-4-2): Rousset; Frail, Pointon, Weir, Murray; Ritchie, Salvatori, Fulton, Hamilton (Adam, 73), McCann, Flogel (Cameron, 46). Substitute not used: Horn.

Referee: S Dougal (Burnside).

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