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|Jim Jefferies 2nd||<-auth||Keith Jackson||auth->||Brian Winter|
|[K Lafferty 4]|
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SPL: Rangers 1 Hearts 0
Feb 3 2011 By Keith Jackson
IT was billed as the end of the world as we know it. The night that Scottish football danced with the devil.
In reality, Ibrox witnessed nothing more sinister than a simple Irish jig as Walter Smith's men took a three-point chunk out of Celtic's title lead.
As much as big Kyle Lafferty may long to be one of the game's proper villains, the truth is he remains strictly El Hadji Light.
And yet it was the Ulsterman who stole the show for the reigning champions with the only goal of a largely disappointing night.
The real Diouf did make his bow. And he looked, well, perfectly in control.
In fact, the Rangers new boy came off the bench after 20 minutes and did more than enough to suggest he will provide Smith with genuine attacking quality for the four months of his loan deal from Blackburn Rovers.
The 30-year-old darted around with menace and eye-catching style and even though Hearts went out of their way to rile him up, he remained perfectly placid in the face of some provocative treatment, including another horror tackle from Tynecastle's own Mr Nasty, Ian Black.
But even though Diouf looked the part, he was left to play second fiddle to matchwinner Lafferty who saw Rangers through with a goal of sheer quality.
If truth be told, there was something of an anti-climax about this match even before it had begun. Having gone to such bother to bring in fresh faces before the transfer deadline, Smith chose to leave all three recruits - Diouf, David Healy and Kyle Bartley - sitting on the bench.
If that didn't make much sense, then the manager's decision to go with only one man in attack - and to make that man Lafferty - appeared utterly bizarre.
But what do we know? As it transpired, Lafferty needed only three minutes to open the scoring and, in so doing, light up the atmosphere on an otherwise wretched and drab night.
And this was no ordinary goal. Lafferty started the whole thing off himself by spraying a wonderfully crisp ball fully 40 yards from left to right before setting off towards the penalty box.
Steven Whittaker looked up from the touchline to see the Northern Irishman ghosting through and the full-back's delivery was inch perfect into his path.
Lafferty didn't even have to break stride, just extend his right leg to guide the sweetest of volleys in at keeper Marian Kello's right-hand post with his instep of his boot.
It was a terrific goal and it may have caught Lafferty by surprise as much as it stunned the visitors who had arrived looking to atone for their last trip along the M8 when they were dismantled by Celtic at Parkhead.
Hearts had actually opened up looking bright and lively but Lafferty left them floored and it took Jim Jefferies' players some time to pick themselves back up.
By the time they did that, they had been joined by Diouf who came on to a rapturous standing ovation when he replaced the limping Lee McCulloch after only 20 minutes.
It seems, despite all the gnashing of teeth that greeted his arrival, this confirmed scoundrel has taken refuge among friends after all.
Diouf was eager to please them, too, floating around in space near Lafferty and looking to cause mischief.
This was a promising introduction even if, for their part, Hearts' defenders were managing to keep him at bay.
In fact, it was at the other end that the only other real chance of the first half was to be fashioned by Hearts skipper Marius Zaliukas.
The Lithuanian made it for himself, too, somehow testing Allan McGregor with a superb header from fully 18 yards that the keeper did well to fingertip over at full stretch.
The rest of the half, though, was an increasingly tousy affair with Diouf a central figure.
First Zaliukas was booked for cynically clipping the ankles of the Senegalese striker as he tried to torment the Hearts backline.
Then Suso Santana had his name taken for a nasty looking late one on Davie Weir.
But the worst foul of the lot was a fairly brutal looking lunge from, of all people, Black on, of all people, Diouf.
The man who put Nikica Jelavic out of action for three months had been booed relentlessly from the start but the locals were gunning for him with serious venom after watching Diouf being chopped down. In fact, Black was fortunate only to see yellow.
Down in the dugout, Rangers boss Smith had allowed a red mist to descend. He reacted furiously to Black's ugly lunge and was still simmering at the officials when he headed inside at half time.
His temper was tested again before the break when Vladimir Weiss was blatantly tugged back by Eggert Jonsson who became the fourth Hearts player to be booked in a 13-minute period.
Rangers responded to this by almost snatching a second goal when Diouf's free-kick picked out Lafferty but the Northern Ireland international sent his header too high.
So Rangers headed inside with only a one-goal lead to sooth their gaffer's rage.
Jefferies, though, realised Black was now on thin ice and, just as at Parkhead a week ago, he removed the midfield man before the referee did it for him.
Black stayed inside, his place taken by Ryan Stevenson but his reputation as a nasty bit of work further enhanced.
Had Kello not pulled off a fabulous reaction save to keep out a thudding effort from Madjid Bougherra, then this contest might have been killed stone dead just five minutes after the restart.
Bougherra had advanced in behind the keeper's last line by working a slick exchange with Steve Davis but, although he got plenty of power behind his right-footed blast, the defender saw Kello make a fine block low at his near post.
Diouf then made his one slip-up of the night - and it was almost a costly one.
He gave away possession with a slack pass straight to Santana. The Spaniard had space and time and, if he'd had his wits about him, would have punished the exposed Bougherra by slipping a pass in behind the Algerian for Stephen Elliott to race on to.
But Santana's botched attempt at a through ball was cut out by Bougherra, much to Elliott's disgust. Diouf was to be the benefactor of similarly charitable play at the other end when played in inexplicably by a slack Zaliukas pass.
The new Ranger really ought to have done a great deal more than dally on the edge of the Hearts box and allow his pocket to be picked at the crucial moment.
More Hearts bookings followed with Ismael Bouzid cautioned for a foul on Maurice Edu and Stevenson for bringing Diouf down for the umpteenth time.
In injury time, Diouf forced Kello to spill his shot at the feet of Davis who hammered it high into the net.
But even though a linesman's flag robbed Rangers of a second goal, the champions saw the game out. And Diouf's debut, although quieter than expected, was a winning one all the same.
Taken from the Daily Record
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