Saturday’s lunchtime kick off in Edinburgh between Heart of Midlothian and Rangers was seen by many as a game which could give Hearts the chance to stake their claim as realistic title opponents to challenge the Old Firm dominance in the SPL. Hearts went into the match as the in-form team having not lost in their previous nine games. This was to be the first of three games against the Old Firm in the following twelve days, a period that could make or break any title challenge.
If this was the case, by the end of the 90 minutes there was to be one clear outcome; that the Edinburgh outfit had now staked their claim of intent in the race for the SPL title crown. The victory, followed by Celtic’s 1-0 win over Aberdeen, left the top three clubs being separated by only seven points, with the neutral fans waiting in anticipation to see if the Edinburgh club can continue to mount a serious challenge against the Old Firm in the title race.
A single goal by Hearts midfielder Ryan Stevenson was enough to give the home side victory over the Champions, after a determined display in front of their home support. The victory was made all the better for the fact that Rangers had indeed played the majority of the better football in the game, with Hearts only recording a single shot on goal. For all the football the visitors played, in the final third of the park they were thwarted by the efforts of Hearts goalkeeper Marian Kello, who produced a fantastic display to keep the champions at bay. Hearts were fully deserving of the victory, having defended resolutely in numbers, a tactic more recently suited to that of the Glasgow Club. Had this been the case in reverse, there is no doubt the media in Scotland would have labelled it as a ‘display of champions’.
The victory was more than just three points to Hearts. It was a sign of purpose, and one of a club who with a bit of conviction about them in the lead up to May, might just find themselves staring league glory in the face.
Next up for Hearts is a trip to Celtic Park on Wednesday night in another league clash. The club travel to Glasgow with a ten game unbeaten run, and will be brimming with confidence when they line up against Neil Lennon’s team. Lennon has today acknowledged Hearts presence in the title hunt, before questioning whether or not they can keep up the fight, ahead of Wednesday’s game. The clash will no doubt be an interesting encounter, after the fireworks it produced the last time the clubs met at Tynecastle, back in November.
The Gorgie outfit then travel again to Glasgow to face Rangers, on Wednesday week, in a rescheduled league match. If Hearts can take anything from these two matches, this will surely feel like a victory itself for the club, and possibly provide them with the catalyst to continue this challenge which has seen them keep hot on the heels of the SPL’s top two.
Under Jim Jefferies, Hearts appear to be a different team, going about their business with a confident swagger about them, and a genuine belief that this could be the year a team either comes between the Old Firm or pips them to the league title. The form they are in at the moment is one more often suited to that of one of the Old Firm, but make no mistake, the Edinburgh club are to be taken seriously in their quest to be the first team outside the top two to win the Premier League in twenty six years.
The SPL is in dire need of a team challenging the ‘norm’ in watching the Old Firm scrap yearly to win the title. The question is whether or not Hearts can keep up the pace on their Old Firm rivals and take the race all the way to the leagues’ conclusion in May. The neutral football fans in Scotland will be willing them to keep up the tempo in the race, and be hopeful that Hearts can maintain a realistic opportunity at winning the SPL title.
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