'Hampden defeat not unexpected but still missed opportunity'

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You can’t say Sunday’s defeat to Rangers was unexpected, but I can’t help feel it was a missed opportunity.

Of course, a few pints deep after the trip along the M8, I like many thousands of Hearts supporters had the beer-goggles vision and optimism we could beat Rangers if we played to our capabilities and they were under-par.

There was justified ground for optimism given the travails Rangers have had recently with just two victories from their last eight matches, but one thing I had overlooked was the fact that they have defeated us on all five previous encounters this season.

Rangers didn’t have to be at their best; they just needed to contain Lawrence Shankland. It was so obvious in that game with a nullified Shankland, our attack was fairly meek and truth is we could still be playing now and I don’t think we really would have threatened Jack Butland in the Rangers goal.

Add in the fact I don’t think either Rangers goal was well worked; even with Cyril Dessers’ first strike, there will be two or three Hearts defenders thinking they should have done better and stopped him slaloming his way through our defence.

I don’t think we played as badly as some Jambos have reacted with on social media, I just feel that we lacked the belief we could get back into the game with the early setback and Shankland marked out the match.

I feel that if we had a more physical target man to call upon; like Rangers have with Dessers and the other two semi-finalists Celtic – with Adam Idah and Aberdeen with Bojan Miovski – had, things might have been different and we would have had a focal point to aim for.

It shouldn’t be lost that this season has still been a success, with guaranteed European group-stage football all but confirmed, the most away league wins in over 30 years and having reached two cup semi-finals, potentially losing to the eventual winner in both competitions.

We need to finish the season strong, to carry the momentum generated in the last five months to ensure we start well in both our European and league efforts.

As long as we avoid defeat to Kilmarnock on Saturday, we will be guaranteed third place and that should be our immediate focus. Achieving this will mean we can perhaps blood in a few fringe players or youngsters before the summer transfer window.

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