Thursday, 17 August 2017

Rangers v Hearts - the most important match of the season?

Many Bears reading the headline might be thinking ‘lunacy’ (this site has a reputation for madness) and that it is both too early to make such comments and not a fixture that qualifies for such importance.

I believe it is.

Rangers have had a stuttering start to the Premiership this season. An unconvincing win at Fir Park was compounded by a disappointing defeat at Ibrox to Hibs, leading many to question the team’s quality and the manager’s ability, not to mention a few refereeing decisions.

However, like it or not, Hibs are a good team and are one of only four sides with a 100% record at the top of the table – they are a strong contender for a top four or even better finish.

So while that defeat hurt, Rangers were down to 10 men and up against a side who took control of the match around the half hour mark.

But this Saturday sees the visit of a completely mediocre Hearts team without direction, and with a similar domestic record to our own – one win, one loss. They have no manager, nor one even in sight, and they are slap bang in the lower middle of the table in 8th place.

Of course things will normalise and they probably will not finish the season there, but last season they only managed three slots better in their final placing.

The point? Rangers host a truly midtable side this weekend, and such a halfway house of a team is the most glaring test of where Rangers really are.

Lose to Hearts, at home, in the state they are in, and it starts to look deeply ominous. Win convincingly and things feel like they might just be starting to settle a tad – because this is the standard of team Rangers must regularly beat to stand a chance of a top-placed finish.

Obviously we cannot truly judge anything in any sense of finality, the season is still young; so even if Hearts do take all three points it might not mean the end of the world.

But it might. Last season Rangers’ schedule began horrifically with a draw at home to Hamilton, and two deeply unconvincing wins against Dundee and Motherwell before being held by Killie. Then Celtic routed us. That pattern really did reflect the season that lay ahead.

So it is possible to make judgements based on early season form. Not every time, of course, but many fans are concerned this season so far echoes last in more ways than we want it to.

But a convincing win against a team like Hearts would go some way to allaying a few fears.

Two wins and a loss is just about manageable – two losses and an unconvincing win would be deeply troubling.

The former is possible. We must hope Pedro finds a way to make it happen.
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