Rangers respond in style as Alfredo Morelos double and Aaron Ramsey debut caps 5-0 win over Hearts
Giovanni van Bronckhorst got exactly the response he craved following his side’s painful 3-0 loss to Old Firm in midweek which knocked them out of the Premiership summit.
The pressure on the champions was heightened by Celtic’s 4-0 win at Motherwell in Sunday’s kick-off, meaning they started four points behind their arch-rivals.
But inspired by the return of Alfredo Morelos, whose double took his tally for the season to 15, Rangers have routed a Hearts side who will reflect on their own missed chances at key moments.
There was also a Rangers debut for Aaron Ramsey, with the on-loan Juventus midfielder appearing for the final quarter to further aid the renewed positivity around a club who hope he could get away with it. turn out to be their ace in the pack during the closing. a few months of campaigning.
Given the surprising shortcomings of his side’s presentation at Celtic Park, it was perhaps slightly surprising that van Bronckhorst limited the number of changes to his starting line-up to just four.
But the quartet that arrived – Leon Balogun, Ryan Jack, John Lundstram and Morelos – managed to bring more balance, cohesion and purpose to Rangers by replacing Borna Barisic, Glen Kamara, Amad Diall and Kemar Roofe.
The levels of intensity and aggression demanded by the manager, so miserably absent from their approach in the derby defeat, were evident from the first moments as they set out to redeem themselves in front of their own fans.
Hearts, with John Souttar linked to Rangers not even among the substitutes, made just two changes to the side which drew 0-0 at Hibs with Aaron McEneff and Alex Cochrane at the expense of Andy Halliday and Ellis Simms .
Neilson opted for a free-flowing 3-4-3 system in which Barrie McKay was surprisingly deployed as a central attacking player, flanked by more natural centre-forwards Liam Boyce and McEneff.
Pivotal to a vastly improved performance for Rangers was Jack, the Scottish midfielder showing what was missed during his long battle to overcome a serious calf injury.
Making his first tenure since last February, he brought confidence and mastery of the tempo to his side.
Rangers’ dynamic start to the competition, which saw Joe Aribo, Ryan Kent and Morelos all unable to convert decent openings as they advanced at every opportunity, was rewarded with the international striker’s 11th-minute breakthrough Colombian.
Calvin Bassey, who looked much more comfortable in his primary left-back position, split the Hearts defense with a superb through ball that freed Kent. The winger’s low cross found Morelos waiting at the far post for a simple tap-in past the helpless Craig Gordon.
Van Bronckhorst’s only source of frustration would be his side’s inability to put the game to bed before the break.
Both Aribo and Kent fended off efforts from inviting positions, while Morelos forced an unorthodox but effective save from Gordon’s feet as Rangers remained largely in the ascendancy.
Hearts offered very little attacking force in the first half, although McEneff was unable to enjoy a clear view of goal when he obediently fired a shot directly at Allan McGregor.
The vulnerability of a 1-0 lead was underscored at Rangers in first-half stoppage time when Connor Goldson had to make a perfectly timed challenge to the penalty box to deny Alex Cochrane what looked like some leveler.
Hearts introduced Simms for McEneff early in the second half and Everton’s loanee immediately brought a greater sense of power to their attack.
Neilson’s men scorned two glorious chances to equalize amid uncertainty in the Rangers defense just after the break, with Nathaniel Atkinson firing from close range when unmarked before Cammy Devlin fired from accuracy after catching an error from Bassey.
The game was still very much in doubt at this stage, but just as the anxiety among the home support grew palpably, Rangers made it 2-0 in the 64th minute.
There was an element of fortune to the goal, with Morelos enjoying a nice ricochet off Stephen Kingsley as he attempted to play a pass to Jack. There was nothing lucky about the finish, however, as he guided a soft left-footed shot past Gordon’s right hand.
Gordon denied Morelos a hat-trick in a one-on-one as Rangers struggled to boost their goal difference.
He came their way with three more goals in the final 20 minutes. Kamara, replacing Jack who received a well-deserved standing ovation, made it 3-0 with a calm finish before Scott Arfield grabbed the number four after a one-two with Kent.
It was Arfield’s last contribution before being replaced by Ramsey who received acclaim from Rangers fans. He showed some neat touches but it was another sub, Fashion Sakala, who ended a satisfying afternoon of work for Rangers when he met a low Kent cross to force a shot beyond of Gordon.
Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Bassey; Jack (Kamara 68), Lundstram (Davis 85), Aribo (Sakala 76); Arfield (Ramsey 76), Morelos, Kent (Diallo 85). Unused submarines: McLaughlin, Barisic, Sands, Roofe.
Hearts (3-4-3): Gordon, Moore, Sibbick, Kingsley; Atkinson (Haring 73), Devlin (Woodburn 73), Baningime (Ginnelly 73), Cochrane; McEneff (Simms 46), McKay, Boyce (Halliday 78). Subs not used: Stewart, Mackay-Steven, Pollock.