A second-half double from Alfredo Morelos fired Rangers into the Scottish League Cup final with a 3-0 win against Hearts, setting up a meeting with Old Firm rivals Celtic.
Two goals either side of half-time from Filip Helander and Morelos were reward for incessant Rangers first-half pressure. The Colombian striker added a third after superb work from Ryan Kent, and Steven Gerrard’s side could have scored many more were it not for profligate finishing.
Hearts, with Austin MacPhee in caretaker charge after Craig Levein’s sacking on Thursday, were a mess. They created little, with all three substitutions made by the 52nd minute due to a combination of injuries and ill-discipline.
Owner Ann Budge sat stony-faced in the Hampden executive box – rather than preparing her club for a cup final, she must now focus on finding a replacement for Levein as a matter of urgency, with Hearts only off the bottom of the Scottish Premiership table due to goal difference.
After five successive semi-final defeats without scoring a goal, Rangers have finally taken a defining step forwards in cup competition under Steven Gerrard. Their reward is a mouth-watering match-up on December 8 against a Celtic team unbeaten in 30 domestic cup ties and will be the first time the Old Firm rivals have met in a cup final since 2011.
How Rangers cruised to victory
Gerrard’s team was vibrant throughout, with Ryan Jack and Morelos once again outstanding, in a performance that will boost confidence ahead of Thursday’s Europa League tie with Porto at Ibrox.
For all their possession, a quality ball was often lacking, and it took 16 minutes to fashion a clear-cut chance, when Jack played James Tavernier in behind Aidy White. The cross appeared destined to be converted by Morelos, only for Michael Smith to whip the ball off his toes.
Rangers: McGregor (6), Tavernier (7), Helander (7), Goldson (7), Barisic (7), Jack (8), Davis (7), Kamara (7), Ojo (8), Kent (8), Morelos (9).
Subs used: Aribo (5), Arfield (5), Defoe (5).
Hearts: Pereira (6), Smith (7), White (6), Berra (6), Bozanic (5), Clare (5), Whelan (5), Wighton (5), MacLean (4), Hickey (5), Meshino (5).
Subs used: Irving (5), Izpeazu (6), Naismith (6).
Man of the match: Alfredo Morelos.
Jack, emboldened by two goals at Ross County in midweek, soon forced a sharp save from Joel Pereira. Glenn Kamara’s snap shot was then hacked clear by Smith, before Pereira stood tall to block Tavernier’s effort at the near post.
MacPhee was forced into two changes before half-time, first losing defensive shield Glenn Whelan to a hamstring injury, and then removing Steven MacLean before he was red-carded. The striker, who had constantly harried Goldson and was on a booking, left a foot in on Allan McGregor but was let off by referee John Beaton. MacPhee took no chances and sent on Uche Ikpeazu, who received a hero’s welcome from the Hearts support.
- Rangers pair Scott Arfield and Joe Aribo dropped out after Wednesday’s 4-0 win at Ross County and were replaced by Steven Davis and Ryan Kent.
- Hearts caretaker manager made three changes with Glenn Whelan, Ryotaro Meshino and Craig Wighton coming in. Uche Ikpeazu and Steven Naismith started on the bench.
Kent’s shot that clipped the outside of the post was a sign of things to come, as Rangers made the breakthrough in first-half stoppage time. Morelos’ cross from the right was slammed home by Helander as Hearts claimed for offside; on second viewing it became apparent Christophe Berra inadvertently blocked Aaron Hickey from matching the Swede’s run.
The game was finished as a contest 90 seconds into the second half, when Tavernier collected the ball on the byline and found Morelos six yards out for his 19th goal of the season. Again, the Hearts defence was statuesque, White this time the man at fault.
Ikpeazu apart, Hearts were limp. The striker outmuscled Goldson but Jack cleared his header off the line, before Wighton glanced a header just wide. Steven Naismith’s introduction for the injured Smith sent Sean Clare to right back, with Hickey moving to centre-half. The 17-year-old was soon left sprawling in Kent’s wake as the winger turned him inside out, before cutting the ball back for a rampant Morelos to thump home Rangers’ third on 62 minutes.
The Colombian thought he had a hat-trick soon after but was flagged for offside; he also hit the side-netting when it appeared easier to score, and then forced a save from Pereira, who also parried Arfield’s follow-up effort.
Man of the match – Alfredo Morelos
In reality, there were two or three players worthy of the man-of-the-match award for Rangers, but with a hand in all three goals, you cannot deny Morelos the plaudits. Hearts could not keep him at bay, with his cross in for Helander’s first a superb display of vision.
His finishes for the next two were thunderous and the sign of a striker in top form, having now scored 20 goals this season. It would have been a perfect even if he could have completed the hat-trick, and he had the chances too, but a place in the final will be a neat consolation prize.
What the managers said
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard: “I think as far as I’m concerned and Alfredo’s concerned, we just need to work towards 21 [goals]. I’m sure secretly he will have his own targets which I know all forwards do.
“He’s in great form, he’s smiling and he’s happy and he’s producing for his team. He’s contributing heavily and that’s the reason we are so happy to have him.
“I’m delighted to get through, I thought the performance was very strong. I don’t think anyone can say we don’t deserve to be in the final.
Livingston vs Rangers
November 10, 2019, 2:30pm
“The final will be quite an occasion. There will be plenty of time to speak about it and who it’s against. But today is all about Rangers and us performing ever so well and the lads should enjoy it.”
Hearts caretaker manager Austin MacPhee: “It was disappointing. We knew everything had to go our way if we were to get a result but to lose Glenn [Whelan] so early – a very important player for us – and then we lost the goal just before half-time.
“Rangers dominated first-half possession but we hoped we could get in and regroup and we planned to add Jamie Walker and Steven Naismith to the team later on as they’re returning from injury, as well as having Uche (Ikpeazu) strong at the end of the game, but I had to introduce him early.
“We lost a goal and also Michael Smith and it was a terrible time to lose a goal, as well as two key players lost through injury.”
Analysis: Rangers shine, Hearts in trouble
Sky Sports News’ Charles Paterson:
“This game was a non-event, insomuch as only one team turned up. Rangers were effervescent from the off, and never looked troubled against a Hearts team attempting to adopt a more expansive game plan than in recent weeks. In truth, they never threatened to cause Rangers problems, instead becoming architects of their own downfall.
“Austin MacPhee’s decision to drop Uche Ikpeazu raised eyebrows pre-match, but the big striker was thrown into the action before half-time due to Steven MacLean’s rashness. The scoreline flattered Hearts. For all their troubles in recent weeks, the problems had been going forward, as they had been relatively solid defensively – yet all three goals at Hampden resulted from self-inflicted errors.
“Craig Levein had built this team to be hard to beat, but he couldn’t find a creative formula; MacPhee’s attempt to cause Rangers problems by being more open foundered, as Steven Gerrard’s side cut them open time after time.
“Hearts are a club in crisis. Ann Budge will address the media on Monday as she begins the process of repairing the problems left by Levein. Not only does she require a new manager urgently, she must decide whether to find a new director of football, or rip up the club’s structural template. Five years on from taking over at Tynecastle, the club appears all at sea, with no clear plan for the way ahead.
“Rangers, meanwhile, continue to impress. In Morelos, Gerrard has a striker who appears almost unstoppable. Whether it be in the Europa League, or against domestic cannon-fodder, the Colombian treats all opponents with contempt. With 20 goals in only 24 appearances this season, the sky is the limit for Morelos, unless potential suitors come calling in January. He is utterly crucial to Rangers’ chances of silverware this season.
“A final showdown now beckons with Celtic, and a match which will be Rangers’ most important since the club emerged from financial ruin. Securing a first piece of major silverware since 2011 – while stopping another treble bid from Celtic – could be a seminal moment, and galvanise a title push. After painful cup defeats against Aberdeen last season, Gerrard’s team has taken another small psychological step forward. It will become a giant leap if they emerge victorious again in December.”
Rangers are next in action on Thursday in the Europa League as they host Porto (kick-off 8pm) before travelling to Livingston in the Scottish Premiership on Sunday, live on Sky Sports (kick-off 3pm). For Hearts, they will next play on Saturday when they welcome St Mirren to Tynecastle in the league.