Scottish Cup semi-final: Will revived Hearts add to Rangers’ woes at Hampden?

Rangers defeated Hearts in the 2022 Scottish Cup finalVenue: Hampden Park Date: Sunday, 21 April Kick-off: 15:00 BSTCoverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland Extra, text commentary on BBC Sport website and app. Sportscene highlights on BBC Scotland at 19:15

As Rangers and Hearts vie for a place in the Scottish Cup final, the mood in the camps seems to have flipped in the five months since they last met at Hampden.

Back in November at the League Cup semi-final, Philippe Clement had rejuvenated Rangers while Hearts were huffing and puffing with Steven Naismith at the helm.

So much so that Hearts fans had unfurled a banner reading “we deserve better” a couple of months prior as rookie boss Naismith toiled to win over the support.

Now, the Jambos are one game away from a second Scottish Cup final in three years, have secured European football for a third successive season and are 11 points clear in third in the Premiership.

An impressive 12-game unbeaten run from mid-December to the end of February – which was ended emphatically at Ibrox in a 5-0 defeat – aided that.

In comparison, Rangers are on a wretched sequence of just one win in their last five league outings and have conceded nine goals along the way – the same tally as in the previous 21 since Clement arrived in October.

They’ve exited Europe and allowed Celtic to regain top spot in the title race, but are still chasing a domestic treble.

With the League Cup already in the trophy cabinet, a 13-game unbeaten run against Hearts and 11 goals scored against them already this season, Rangers still carry favourites status into the second Scottish Cup semi-final of the weekend.

Clement has ‘200% belief’ in ‘hungry’ Rangers

Much has been made of Rangers’ recent run, and the mixed messages that have come from manager Clement and player Dujon Sterling about recent performances.

The Belgian, who won his first silverware with the club after just nine weeks in charge, played down the suggestion from some supporters that the resurgence is running thin.

“I think this team since October did improve in results, in attitude and resilience, and in six months they proved it several times,” he said. “That’s what they need to do again. So, yes, my belief is there 200%.”

Clement is comfortable with such scrutiny and knows it is part and parcel of being at Rangers, who ended their 13-year wait for Scottish Cup success against Hearts in 2022 to mark their 34th triumph in the competition.

“Winning, becoming champion, is the only thing that counts,” he said. “But I’ve been like that all my life. There is nobody who can be more critical than me because I want to win everything.

“If you win 10 games in a row, you have more belief than when you lose two times but this is Rangers, this is a club where you always have to fight.

“Every point you lose, it’s like you’re going to hell, but it’s an exciting place to be because on the other side you can go also to heaven when you win games and when you win trophies.”

‘Calm heads’ could create Hearts history

Hearts have lost all four meetings with Rangers this season – including at Hampden already – but Naismith believes they are more than capable of beating the Ibrox side for the first time in four years.

The Tynecastle club have never defeated Rangers at Hampden, though did prevail against them in the 1998 Scottish Cup final at Celtic Park.

“We need to be better in possession than we have been in games against Rangers recently,” Naismith said. “If we are, we can cause them a lot of problems.

“That’s the one part of the games we’ve not done well enough. We’ve worked on how we do that, and we believe we’ll go into the game with a good plan to win it.”

Leading the charge will be captain and Scotland striker Lawrence Shankland. The 28-year-old has 28 goals in all competitions and insisted his full focus is on guiding Jambos to the final, rather than his potential place at the upcoming Euros. He has a clear and calm head – exactly what Naismith is calling for.

“It’s hard work getting to this point,” the head coach added. “The nerves, the adrenaline, the sense of opportunity – all these key moments happen through the 90 minutes.

“It’s about having calm heads at the right times to take advantage of those moments.”

SOURCE: BBC Sport   (go to source)
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