3 talking points as Rangers head to Seville on a high after Ibrox young guns shine in Edinburgh fringe show
Rangers’ second string made sure Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s team enjoyed a successful Seville send-off as the completed their Premiership programme by sweeping past Hearts at Tynecastle.
Peter Haring put the hosts ahead midway through the first half but the Jambos’ lead last just seven minutes as Cedric Itten hit back for the Europa League finalists.
Ibrox kid Alex Lowry underlined his burgeoning talent with a superb second to put Gers ahead, while fellow Ibrox academy graduate Cole McKinnon grabbed a debut goal as van Bronckhorst threw on the youngsters after the break.
But it’s not the defeat that will worry Hearts boss Robbie Neilson ahead of next week’s Scottish Cup final against the Light Blues.
Instead, he will be more concerned about top scorer Liam Boyce, who had to be replaced after just 10 minutes after appearing to tweak a groin.
The injury must know make him a major doubt for next week’s game at Hampden.
This was a match which in truth both teams would rather have done without.
Even by making five changes Neilson sent out a team that would not look too far away from the XI he’s expected to start at Hampden.
The return of John Souttar and Craig Halkett to the bench was a boost for the Gorgie side.
Gers went even further as he benched all of his Seville hopefuls ahead of Wednesday’s huge clash with Eintracht Frankfurt .
Lowry was the only player to keep his place from Wednesday’s win over Ross County as Steven Davis skippered a team containing 10 changes.
With only the pre-Hampden bragging rights up for grabs it was still a decent contest.
Scott Arfield had an early pop at Craig Gordon’s goal after good work by Aaron Ramsey, while Josh Ginnelly - on for the crocked Boyle - found Simms the at front post, who was only denied by James Sands’ covering block.
But the the on-loan Everton striker proved too strong for Rangers’ American loanee on 24 minutes.
Holding off the New York City utility man, he stroked the ball back to Haring, who swept home with one effortless motion as the ball took a kiss of the far post on its way past the stock-still Jon McLaughlin.
Rangers stepped up the tempo in response on came close on on 33 minuets as Ramsey and Amad Diallo lead the charge, with Itten’s strike bouncing off Gordon’s legs and over the bar.
But he would not to be denied and from Lowry’s corner, the big Swiss hitman thudded home the equaliser.
Barrie McKay burst through looking to re-establish Hearts’ lead but Leon King did superbly to recover and put the former Ibrox sideman off.
And in first-half stoppage time, it was Gers who took the lead. Ramsey was again the instigator as his pass found the 18-year-old. With a drop of his shoulder, he effortlessly drifted inside before stroking home with the most casual of finishes.
McKay was close again for Hearts with three efforts but could not on target.
Rangers used the second half to give kids Charlie McCann, Ross McAusland, McKinon and Tony Weston some game time.
But the introduction of former Ranger Andy Halliday and Souttar - who’s heading to Ibrox in the summer - by Neilson with 22 minutes left drew a bigger cheer from the away support than it did the Jambos’ faithful.
And it was two of Gers’ youngsters who combined to seal the win as McKinnin swapped passes with McAusland before hooking home at special goal on his first Rangers run-out.
Rangers looking sharp on dress rehearsal day
The two sides will mate again in a week’s time as they do battle for Scottish Cup glory.
Yet there won’t be many of those who saw action for Gers at Tynecastle lining up at Hampden.
It was a largely second-string team put out by Gio van Bronckhorst as he kept his top stars in reserve for Wednesday’s Europa League date with destiny in Seville.
But Rangers reserve team still had more than enough to ease to victory in Gorgie as they put in a late appeal for action against Eintracht Frankfurt.
Itten is so far out of the picture that he’s not even listed on van Bronckhorst’s UEFA squad but with Kemar Roofe still fighting to be fit, the Swiss striker may just have earned himself a place in next Saturday’s squad after bagging only his second goal of the season.
Kids are alright for Gers
With the top team rested, van Bronckhorst used the occasion to blood some of his Ibrox academy stars.
And by the signs of it, it won’t be long before they’re chapping on the first-team door.
Alex Lowry has already established himself as the next big thing in Govan and underlined that with a special goal just before half-time as he stroked past Scotland No.1 Craig Gordon with all the composure of a seasoned vet.
There was a first start for Adam Devine too, while Charlie McCann was introduced at the break.
The average age continued to plummet in the second half as Cole McKinnon, Ross McAusland and Tony Weston were given debuts. And it was McKinnon who wrapped up the win with 10 minutes left as he hooked home from a McAusland goal.
Hearts were nearly at full strength yet by the end it was Boys against Men as the Gers kids gave the hosts the run around.
Boyce gamble now busted flush
Robbie Neilson knew it would be a risk starting so many of his main men for this meaningless curtain closer and it may just have backfired on the Gorgie boss.
There was only 10 minutes gone when top-scorer Liam Boyce went down clutching his groin.
Neilson will hope the 16-goal frontman caught the problem before it became too serious.
If not, it could give him a serious problem for next week.
On a brighter note, John Souttar and Craig Halkett will both come into serious cup final contention after returning from injury off the bench.
Souttar has been out since March while Halkett hasn’t played for a month but Neilson will be keen to have both back involved at Mount Florida.