written by – Roddy Elliot
This season Rangers Report will run a series of Match Previews entitled, the Big Three, prior to each match. Rather then write in generalities about teams I rarely see – we will ask people who follow the opponent on a daily basis to provide some insight on their club. Their task is to identify a Big Three — three aspects of their club that Rangers supporters should keep an eye on.
After only a third of a 36 game season it is far too early to talk about “six pointers” or “must win games” but there are those in both the home & away supports who see Saturdays game as key to how the season will pan out for the two teams currently contesting the automatic promotion slot. Hearts have come through various “minor” tests of their ability and resolve but the hope in Govan is that the increasing pressure will finally tell on Robbie Neilson’s young team and the battle hardened Rangers squad will win, not only closing a concerning points gap, but also making a huge psychological statement. Just about every game at Tynecastle is a sell-out this season & fanatical support home & away has seen Hearts through some sticky moments already this season. The atmosphere is sure to be charged and it remains to be seen which side will be inspired, which overawed.
Hearts of Midlothian: The Big Three
1. Recent Form for both teams
Hearts have played some sublime football this season but in recent games we have struggled. It may be that other teams have worked out that we have relied on width and pace and have stymied our threat by doubling up on the wide players, sitting deep and loading the midfield. I have not seen much of Rangers this year but what I have, including the Hibs game, has suggested that they play at a measured pace, building up steadily & struggle against the kind of pace & movement Hearts have shown at times.
Recent results have been good, mostly better than ours, so they may have found a better style of late, with Lewis Macleod getting rave reviews. They should have good width and a predatory striker so I suspect defending crosses will have been covered in the three-a-day training sessions this week.
A work ethic and taking nothing for granted, plus meticulous planning have played no small part in what success the JTs have enjoyed so far.
2. Keys to Hearts’ success
We have not seen that much evidence of how good Neilson is tactically & Ally McCoist seems to come under constant criticism from his own fans for lack of acumen & being slow to change when something is not working. McCoist is his own man, who presumably takes some advice from two “mini-me” advisers.
Neilson is a young coach surrounded by other youthful “modern” coaching, but with the overarching influence and guidance of Craig Levein.
Not the least interesting feature of Saturday will be whether either coaching team can come up with a game plan which has a real influence or whether the result will come down to the contrast between youthful energy & raw talent versus solid experience & physicality.
For Hearts the key players are Morgaro Gomis, Prince Buaben, Danny Wilson & Osman Sow, the clichéd spine of the team.
The two former Arabs have been standouts for the JTs all year, adding “dig” but also real composure as only really talented players can. I doubt we have had a more influential midfielder, relatively, than Gomis. Sow has been a huge miss in recent games, not only for his goals, but also terrorising defences. Hearts rely on building up from the back and the composure of Wilson under pressure has been a cornerstone which we have missed over the last couple of games when other centre backs have been pressured into giving the ball away.
What do I predict?
If Rangers play like they did against Hibs, Hearts will extend their lead to nine points. If Hearts play like they did against Hibs, Rangers will bully them out of the game.
Like Ireland against Scotland, it is not must win for Rangers, not by long way – but a draw would be a much better result for the boys in maroon.
You can follow Roddy Elliot on Twitter @galleonskip & read his coverage weekly at The Scotsman’s Fanzone.