The Herald - Herald Sport
Kuol ruins happy ending as heroes bid Ibrox farewell
Hearts striker grabs late equaliser on emotional night for stalwarts
IT was an emotional occasion at Ibrox as Rangers bid farewell to Allan McGregor, Alfredo Morelos, Scott Arfield, Ryan Kent and Filip Helander in a dramatic draw with Hearts. The latter two couldn’t be involved in the game, but they were afforded a lap of honour around a grateful stadium at the end of the match.
There could be no room for sentiment from Hearts though, who had something tangible still to play for in the form of third place, and they came racing out of the blocks to go ahead through Lawrence Shankland’s 28th goal of the season after just 50 seconds.
The Hearts defence though were indeed in generous mood, and they gift-wrapped goals for Todd Cantwell and Fashion Sakala to put the home fans in a more festive mood once more.
A late, late Garang Kuol strike rather put a dampener on the occasion for the Rangers support though, the substitute levelling with the last kick.
Here are the talking points from Ibrox…
A Rangers legend bows out
There was loud applause all around Ibrox as McGregor’s name was read out prior to kick-off, but any hope of a clean sheet for the Ibrox hall-of-famer on his final appearance for the club was extinguished before he even had a touch of the ball.
A long James Hill throw caused mayhem in the
Rangers box, with James Tavernier making a meal of his attempted clearance. As he so often has been this year, Shankland was in the right place at the right time to poke the ball home, though the wild celebrations in the away end were curtailed as the assistant referee raised his flag.
They were only delayed though, and after a VAR check, they got underway once more as the goal was awarded.
Josh Ginnelly then outfoxed Leon King and got a shot away that stung McGregor’s palms, before the keeper showed that he hasn’t mellowed in his footballing dotage, picking up a yellow card for dissent after referee John Beaton had stopped the game for a head knock to Ginnelly.
One last madcap night with Morelos
On the 20th minute, the Rangers support thanked Morelos for the service he had given the club over the years, though the deterioration in his form over recent times was rather highlighted by the fact this was the first cause to mention his name.
The section of the Broomloan Road Stand housing The Union Bears unfurled a banner tribute that read “From the heart of Colombia to the heart of our support”, and whatever the ups and downs of his Rangers career, it will be the highs that will remain longest in the memory of the Rangers fans.
Though, his oftenmadcap antics will likely be fondly recalled too, and he couldn’t leave the stage without a little encore as he got involved in a spat with Steven Naismith, famously something of a shrinking violet too.
The Hearts manager had thrown a ball back onto the field to stop Rangers from taking a quick throw-in, an infraction that saw him pick up a yellow card and attract the ire of the home support, many of whom didn’t need too much encouragement to stoke longharboured grudges against their former player.
Cue a bit of handbags between Naismith and Morelos, something the forward didn’t forget as Cantwell’s equaliser hit the net, making a beeline towards the Hearts technical area and performing a gesture that seemed to poke fun at Naismith’s size. Or at least, a part of him.
He even had time to pick up a booking in the second half for a lunge on Peter Haring, but couldn’t get the goal the Rangers fans craved before being subbed to a standing ovation with 10 minutes to go.
Ah Alfie, never a dull moment.
Arfield no longer an unsung hero
The midfielder is often described as an unsung hero at Ibrox, but there could be no doubting the esteem in which he is held by the Rangers support as he was cheered to the rafters every time he set off down the touchline to warm up.
It was a night that signalled the changing of the guard at Ibrox under Michael Beale though, and with new signing Kieran Dowell in attendance, Nico Raskin and Todd Cantwell patrolling the midfield with John Lundstram and Ryan Jack having signed a new deal, something had to give.
Unfortunately for Arfield, that appears to have been him, but he is
another who will be recalled fondly by the Rangers fans, evidenced by the huge ovation he received when coming on for King with 25 minutes remaining.
Defence let Clark down
The Hearts keeper has won plaudits this season since being thrown in to replace Craig Gordon, but Zander Clark’s form had dipped a little of late, exemplified by his poor attempt at a punch that cost his team a goal at the weekend against Aberdeen.
He was back to his best here though, and while Hearts were hardly under the cosh in the first half, he made a series of good saves. First, he denied Leon King from a deflected effort, then tipped over a rasping Raskin shot from the edge of the box. He then diverted a powerful near post shot from Fashion Sakala onto the woodwork, and must have thought he had done enough to get his side to the interval with their lead intact.
In fact, the Hearts defence as a unit had played well until the very last moments of the half, as the hitherto excellent Hill slipped as he attempted to cut out a poor ball inside from Morelos, allowing Cantwell to steam in on goal. This time, Clark could do nothing as the midfielder raced in and finished off his left-hand post.
Remarkably, they imploded just after the restart again, as a woeful attempt at a header from Toby Sibbick under a long Cantwell punt allowed Sakala to steal in and bundle home under Clark to put Rangers ahead.
Hearts chuck third place
That poor defending proved costly, with Aberdeen’s win over St Mirren moving them four points clear in third place - despite Kuol’s late equaliser - with just one match remaining, a position that Hearts held a seven-point advantage in February.
Coupled with Hibs’ win over Celtic, Hearts will now need to avoid defeat in Saturday’s Edinburgh derby to even be assured of finishing fourth.