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Tavernier double fires Rangers into League Cup final with win over Hearts

Philippe Clement will be aware of the ghosts of Michael Beale. After the opening quarter of last season, with Giovanni van Bronckhorst dismissed, Beale guided a Rangers team to frequent success against every Scottish team bar Celtic. This counted for nothing; by the time Rangers were stuttering more regularly during the start of this campaign, Beale followed the route of Van Bronckhorst. At Rangers, there are wins and wins that matter.

Clement will also argue with legitimacy that his players can do no more. The general weakness of Scottish football is of no current concern to the Belgian. Rangers have won four out of four domestically since Clement took charge, with this dismissal of Heart of Midlothian even more comprehensive than the scoreline states.

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Former Scotland manager Levein takes over at struggling St Johnstone

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Former Scotland manager Craig Levein has been confirmed as the new manager of cinch Premiership bottom club St Johnstone. The McDiarmid Park outfit have announced the 59-year-old has signed a contract which runs until May 2026.

Levein, whose previous clubs include Hearts, Dundee United and Leicester, succeeds Steven MacLean, who left the Perth club last week.
Chief executive Stan Harris said: “I am delighted to welcome Craig to St Johnstone. Craig joins with vast experience having managed over 600 games, including having the highest honour of managing Scotland.

“We identified the need for experience to help guide St Johnstone through this difficult spell. We believe we have found that by appointing Craig. We wish Craig all the best in his new role and have no doubt we have picked the right candidate for the job.”

MacLean left Saints last week following a 4-0 defeat at St Mirren and despite a 2-1 win over Kilmarnock on Wednesday, Saints remain three points behind second-bottom Livingston.

Levein’s first game will be the visit of Motherwell on Tuesday. Levein, who has left his role as club adviser at Brechin City, told SaintsTV: “I am delighted to be sitting here as the new St Johnstone manager. I believe we have a great squad here that can kick on and start to climb up the league.” PA Media

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Aberdeen lie in wait in the League Cup final next month, when Clement can add a note to his club’s recently sparse roll of honour. Trophies afford managerial leeway.

“I know the story we want to build here,” Clement said. “We are not going into a mode of satisfaction, that is a danger. The players can enjoy this evening but tomorrow I expect everybody to be focused again. OK, we are in a final but if you are in a quarter-final, a semi-final, a final it makes no difference. It is about winning something.

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“So far, I have only seen the players when they have had success. You need to see them after disappointment. So I am still in the observation phase in that sense.” Clement’s approach; understated, serious, free from bluster, already looks intriguing. Beale was undone in part by his own hubris. Handily for Rangers, complacency does not appear a Clement trait. He has no interest in merely talking the talk.

A James Tavernier double – a penalty and a free‑kick – either side of Scott Wright’s goal sealed Rangers’ passage to the final. Tavernier’s fortunes seem to fluctuate with his team: when Rangers toil, their captain is widely criticised; when they succeed, Tavernier is front and centre.

As Clement begins his journey at Ibrox, it is no exaggeration to state Steven Naismith should already be nearing the end of his at Tynecastle. Hearts cannot expect to defeat Rangers but there should be reasonable expectation of being far more competitive. The Hearts board took a gamble on their B team coach after only a satisfactory period as interim manager towards the end of last season. Naismith has done nothing subsequently to even suggest he should be in this movie.

Hearts were as turgid and pedestrian at Hampden as they have been for much of this campaign. Naismith’s over-promotion means the Edinburgh side are meandering at a time when their off-field position surely demands much more.

Ryan Jack of Rangers holds off Kenneth Vargas during the Viaplay Cup semi-final at Hampden Park.Ryan Jack of Rangers holds off Kenneth Vargas during the Viaplay Cup semi-final at Hampden Park. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

Here, Naismith’s deployment of a physically weak three-man midfield merely invited trouble. The former Everton forward later reflected on a “tight, cagey, organised” first half. Other descriptive terms apply. “The game changes on the penalty,” he said.

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To a degree, this was fair. However, this was only in the sense that Hearts’ prospects flipped from remote to nonexistent. Kye Rowles was short with a header back to the goalkeeper, Zander Clark, who dallied before colliding with Danilo. Rangers’ striker knew what he was doing in drawing the spot-kick but Hearts’ defending was ragged. Tavernier did the rest from 12 yards. Hearts’ body language was of a team who had already given up.

Within five minutes, Rangers doubled their lead. Danilo fed the substitute Wright, who lashed home from blissful isolation. The Hearts end of Hampden emptied as Tavernier flicked a 20-yard free-kick beyond the motionless Clark. A trio of Clement’s domestic games have seen Rangers score three times or more. Tavernier, so recently maligned, is a hero once again.

Hearts did claim small consolation. The referee, Nick Walsh, was needlessly quick to flash a second yellow card at their defender Stephen Kingsley after he was caught inside the penalty area by Ben Davies. After the VAR recommended Walsh take a second look – Kingsley did not dive at all – Hearts were awarded a penalty which Lawrence Shankland converted. Much too little, much too late.

Perhaps the Rangers support were bored. Perhaps this is just their default position. Either way, the belting out of No Pope of Rome summed up yet another dispiriting off field occasion at the national stadium. From the posh seats, Scottish football’s office bearers listen to this dirge time and again without showing any inclination to do anything about it. The sport and the country deserve far better.