RANGERS are currently, in case you have been residing on Pluto in the past week and are unaware, three points behind leaders Celtic in the cinch Premiership table with five league games remaining.

And with one of those matches being against the defending champions at Parkhead – a venue they have not won at in four years and are not, for the time being anyway, allowed to have any supporters in attendance - their hopes of lifting the Scottish title have been written off by many.  

Yet, the Ibrox club still went into their Scottish Gas Scottish Cup semi-final against Hearts at Hampden, where they had lifted the Viaplay Cup on their previous visit back in December, this afternoon with the chance to complete a world record-equalling eighth domestic treble.

Could Philippe Clement’s men put a wretched three game winless run firmly behind them, progress to the final against their city rivals next month and keep their prospects of plundering three pieces of silverware this term and writing their names in the history books alive?

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Or would they perform as poorly as they had in the first half of their derby encounter with Celtic and the entirety of their meetings with Ross County and Dundee, suffer another bitter disappointment and see their heady ambitions evaporate?

Their tens of thousands of red, white and blue clad followers perhaps travelled to Mount Florida in hope rather than expectation after a bruising seven days.

Clement was not messing about with his team selection. He made no fewer than four changes to the starting line-up which had taken to the field in the 0-0 draw at Dens Park on Wednesday night.

Rangers Review: Hearts fell to defeat against Rangers once more at Hampden ParkCentre half Connor Goldson, central midfielder Tom Lawrence, forward Fabio Silva and striker Kemar Roofe all dropped out. They were replaced by Leon Balogun, Mohamed Diomande, Rabbi Matondo and Cyriel Dessers.

Dropping Goldson for the first time in his Rangers career was a huge call by the Belgian. The English defender has not, along with a few of his team mates, been at his best of late. Still, the former Brighton man is his vice-captain and has been an ever present in his side since he arrived back in October.

Balogun, meanwhile, had not started in two-and-a-half months and had not even been in the match day squad on Tayside in midweek as he had been laid low by a sickness bug. There was pressure on the Nigerian internationalist to justify his selection and perform.

The 35-year-old, though, was not overly troubled by Lawrence Shankland, Kenneth Vargas, Jorge Grant or Alan Forrest. He dovetailed well with John Souttar in the middle of the Glasgow outfit’s rearguard. But the duo, and goalkeeper Jack Butland behind them, did not have much pressure applied to them.   

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Hearts’ record against Rangers is nothing short of lamentable. They have not beaten them since the February of  2020 and went into the match today on the back of four defeats in their head-to-heads. Their dire run continued. They had their moments and got into dangerous positions in the opposition area on a few occasions. But at no stage did they ever really look capable of scoring.  

They had an opportunity to net early in the second-half when Vargas pinched the ball off of Souttar and broke forward into the penalty box. But James Tavernier, another whose defensive displays have left much to be desired in recent weeks, anticipated his cutback and cleared the danger.    

When four Hearts players counter attacked against three Rangers defenders with 20 minutes of regulation time remaining they really should have levelled. They failed to even get a shot away. It kind of summed up their afternoon.  

Their rivals did not fare a great better in the final third. But lone striker Dessers, removed from the front line in Dundee after an abject showing in Dingwall, did produce one moment of real quality in the fifth minute after good work by Tavernier and Todd Cantwell behind him. He stepped outside Nathan Atkinson and rifled beyond Craig Gordon.

Rangers Review: He showed exactly the same sort of composure after Gordon had palmed his attempt clear in the 78th minute. He cut inside and doubled his tally for the day and his side’s lead and effectively booked a place in the final.

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The mercurial former Utrecht, Feyenoord and Cremonese forward continues to divide opinion among the Rangers support. At times they laud the frustrating front man with chants of “Nice one Cyril” and at other moments they question his parentage.

But his well-taken strikes today took his tally for the club he joined in a £4.5m transfer in the summer to 19 and ultimately proved to be the difference between the two teams when referee Steven McLean blew the final whistle. He was a deserved recipient of the Man of the Match award. 

There will doubtless be a few more glaring misses before the end of the 2023/24 campaign. Maybe now, though, his detractors will accept that is what you get from a wholehearted, occasionally flawed but often inspired talent and give him their full backing.  

This was by no means a vintage Rangers performance. They spent long spells on the back foot, after half-time especially. But they got the job done and sometimes, like when you are on a three game winless slump, that matters far more than turning on the style and entertaining paying punters.

Can they go on and do the treble? They will have to perform an awful lot better, not least in the next two Old Firm showdowns, to do so. That said, they will perhaps take heart from the way Aberdeen took Celtic to penalties in their semi yesterday. It is by no means beyond them.  

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