Rangers ended a tumultuous week in glory with a hard-earned 2-0 Scottish Cup final victory over Hearts after extra-time at Hampden Park.
The Light Blues were shattered by their 5-4 penalty shoot-out defeat in the Europa League final by Eintracht Frankfurt on Wednesday night and they went into extra-time again thanks to Craig Gordon’s save with his foot from Joe Aribo near the end of normal time.
However, the Ibrox side dug deep yet again and the Gorgie captain could not keep out a thunderbolt from Ryan Jack after 94 minutes before fellow substitute Scott Wright fired in a second – three minutes later – to take the trophy back to Ibrox for the first time since 2009.
Giovanni Van Bronckhorst won the cup playing with Rangers in 2000 and captured his first trophy as Ibrox manager having taken over from Steven Gerrard last November and it was well deserved.
There had been questions beforehand about Rangers’ response to their European disappointment.
Playing 120 gruelling minutes in the heat of Seville had appeared to take its toll on some of the Gers players – Borna Barisic was injured – and Van Bronckhorst freshened up the side with five changes.
On-loan Manchester United winger Amad Diallo was handed a surprise start, goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin continued his run of playing in every Scottish Cup tie this season, while Steven Davis, Scott Arfield and Leon Balogun also returned.
Jambos defenders Craig Halkett and Ibrox-bound John Souttar both came back into the Hearts defence following ankle injuries – they came off he the bench in last week’s Premiership defeat by the same opponents – while attacker Liam Boyce recovered from a groin strain.
Referee Willie Collum’s whistle punctuated the opening minutes and – amid a series of fouls – Hearts midfielder Peter Haring picked up a booking for a challenge defender Calvin Bassey.
In the 10th minute, on-loan Gorgie striker Ellis Simms slid in to knock a cross from Boyce against the outside of McLaughlin’s post and behind.
The Light Blues were finding most joy down the right-hand side but could not capitalise.
Arfield’s shot from 16 yards from a Davis pass was saved by Gordon before winger Kent curled a shot wide.
In the 37th minute, Aribo’s near-post header from a Bassey cross just did not have enough contact to bother Gordon.
Diallo, for his part, got too much on Bassey’s cross moments later and the ball flew over the crossbar, leaving the first-half goalless.
In 57th minute, Gordon rushed from his goal to thwart Kent, who had latched on to a long ball by Diallo, who was soon booked for a foul on Boyce before he was replaced by Wright.
The prospect of extra-time became stronger.
Jack and Glen Kamara replaced Davis and Arfield with Hearts’ Josh Ginnelly on for Barrie Mackay – Andy Halliday had earlier replaced Boyce.
Balogun headed a James Tavernier corner just over after 83 minutes as Rangers finished strongly and Gordon’s instinctive save with his foot from Aribo’s drive in the closing seconds was game-saving, before Wright hit the crossbar with a header from a Tavernier free-kick.
Aribo headed a Bassey cross over early in extra-time but Jack’s 22-yard strike, after Halkett had cleared a corner, gave Gordon no chance as the ball went flying past him and going in off the crossbar.
Then, in a swift Gers break three minutes later, Wright took a well-weighted pass from Kent on the break and drilled a shot low past Gordon to again spark wild scenes of delight in the blue half of the stadium.
Gordon saved from Rangers substitute Fashion Sakala in the second period of extra-time before 40-year-old number one goalkeeper Allan McGregor took over from McLaughlin in the final seconds, presumably for a goodbye appearance.
There was time for Gordon to make further saves from Kent and Kamara, before the cup was adorned in blue, white and red ribbons for the first time in 13 years.
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