Rangers respond in style as Alfredo Morelos double and Aaron Ramsey debut caps 5-0 win over Hearts

Alfredo Morelos marked his return to the Rangers side with a double in their 5-0 win over Hearts at Ibrox. (Photo by Alan Harvey/SNS Group)

Giovanni van Bronckhorst got exactly the response he had called for in the aftermath of his team’s painful 3-0 Old Firm defeat in midweek which had knocked them off the Premiership summit.

The pressure on the champions was cranked up another notch by Celtic’s 4-0 win at Motherwell in Sunday’s earlier kick-off, meaning they kicked off four points behind their great rivals.

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But inspired by the returning Alfredo Morelos, whose double took his tally for the season to 15, Rangers routed a Hearts side who will reflect on missing chances of their own at key moments.

Ryan Jack commanded the midfield area for Rangers as he made his first starting appearance since February 2021. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

There was also a Rangers debut for Aaron Ramsey, the on-loan Juventus midfielder appearing for the final quarter of an hour to further aid the renewed air of positivity around a club who hope he might prove to be their ace in the pack over the closing few months of the campaign.

Given the startling deficiencies of his team’s display at Celtic Park, it was perhaps mildly surprising that van Bronckhorst restricted the number of changes to his starting line-up to just four.

But the quartet who came in – Leon Balogun, Ryan Jack, John Lundstram and Morelos – successfully brought greater balance, cohesion and purpose to Rangers as they replaced Borna Barisic, Glen Kamara, Amad Diall and Kemar Roofe.

The levels of intensity and aggression demanded by the manager, so lamentably absent from their approach in the derby defeat, were evident from the opening moments as they set about making amends in front of their own fans.

There was a return to form for Rangers winger Ryan Kent who had a hand in three of their goals against Hearts at Ibrox. (Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group)

Hearts, with Rangers-bound John Souttar not even among the subs, made just two changes to the side which drew 0-0 at Hibs with Aaron McEneff and Alex Cochrane coming in at the expense of Andy Halliday and Ellis Simms.

Neilson opted for a fluid 3-4-3 system in which Barrie McKay was surprisingly deployed as the central attacking player, flanked by more natural centre-forward Liam Boyce and McEneff.

The fulcrum of a vastly improved Rangers performance was Jack, the Scotland midfielder showing what has been missed during his lengthy battle to overcome a serious calf injury.

Making his first start since February last year, he brought assurance and control of tempo to his side.

Rangers’ vibrant start to the contest, which saw Joe Aribo, Ryan Kent and Morelos all unable to convert decent openings as they surged forward at every opportunity, was rewarded with the 11th minute breakthrough from the Colombian international striker.

Calvin Bassey, looking far more comfortable in his primary position of left-back, split the Hearts defense with a superb through ball which released Kent. The winger’s low cross found Morelos waiting at the far post for a simple tap-in beyond the helpless Craig Gordon.

Van Bronckhorst’s only source of frustration would be his team’s failure to put the game to bed before the break.

Aribo and Kent both curled efforts wide from inviting positions, while Morelos forced an unorthodox but effective save from Gordon’s feet as Rangers remained largely in the ascendancy.

Hearts offered precious little as an attacking force in the first half, although McEneff was unable to take advantage of one clear sight of goal when he sent a shot tamely straight to Allan McGregor.

The vulnerability of a 1-0 lead was emphasized to Rangers in first half stoppage time when Connor Goldson had to make a perfectly timed penalty box challenge to deny Alex Cochrane what looked like a certain leveller.

Hearts introduced Simms for McEneff at the start of the second half and the Everton loanee immediately brought a greater sense of potency to their attack.

Neilson’s men scorned two glorious chances to equalize amid uncertainty in the Rangers defense just after the break, Nathaniel Atkinson firing wide from close range when left unmarked before Cammy Devlin lobbed narrowly off target after seizing on a Bassey mistake.

The match was still very much in the balance at that stage but just as the anxiety among the home support was palpably increasing, Rangers made it 2-0 in the 64th minute.

There was an element of fortune in the goal, Morelos benefiting from a kind 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 sweet left foot shot beyond Gordon’s right hand.

Gordon denied Morelos a hat-trick in a one-on-one between as Rangers set about giving their goal difference a further boost.

It came their way with three more goals in the closing 20 minutes. Kamara, replacing Jack who received a richly deserved ovation, made it 3-0 with a composed finish before Scott Arfield grabbed number four after a one-two with Kent.

It was Arfield’s final contribution before being replaced by Ramsey who was loudly acclaimed by the Rangers fans. He showed some neat touches but it was another sub, Fashion Sakala, who completed a satisfying afternoon’s work for Rangers when he met a low cross from Kent to force a shot beyond Gordon.

Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Bassey; Jack (68 Kamara), Lundstram (85 Davis), Aribo (76 Sakala); Arfield (Ramsey 76), Morelos, Kent (Diallo 85). Subs not used: 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.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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