Rangers set up Betfred Cup final with Celtic
Rangers 3 Hearts 0
Alfredo Morelos bagged a brace as Rangers set up an Old Firm Betfred Cup final with a comfortable 3-0 win over managerless Hearts at Hampden Park.
The Gorgie club had sacked Craig Levein on Thursday, with assistant Austin MacPhee installed as caretaker, but his game-plan came unstuck when Gers defender Filip Helander broke the deadlock with a strike just before half-time.
In-form striker Morelos doubled that lead with a close-range finish early in the second half and knocked in his 20th of the season in the 63rd minute to end a run of five consecutive semi-final defeats for the Ibrox club
Celtic, who have won 30 domestic cup ties in succession, hammered Hibernian 5-2 in the other semi-final on Saturday and will stand in the way on December 8 as Steven Gerrard chases his first trophy as Rangers boss.
The build-up to the semi-final was dominated by the departure of Levein after just one win in 11 Ladbrokes Premiership matches left Hearts second bottom of the table.
MacPhee sprung a surprise by restoring attacker Craig Wighton into the team at the expense of Uche Ikpeazu.
Glenn Whelan came into the midfield along with Ryotaro Meshino, while former Rangers attacker Steven Naismith was back on the bench following a hamstring problem.
Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor took over from Wes Foderingham, while winger Ryan Kent and Steven Davis also returned to the team.
Hearts' early resistance was admirable and they restricted the Govan men to few chances.
In the 17th minute Rangers skipper James Tavernier cushioned a Ryan Jack cross into the path of Morelos but Tynecastle defender Michael Smith was in quick to deny the Colombian.
Jambos keeper Joel Pereira made saves from the tireless Jack and Tavernier before Hearts suffered a blow in the 27th minute when Whelan limped off to be replaced by Andrew Irving.
Five minutes before the interval, the already-booked Hearts striker Steven MacLean was handed a final warning by referee John Beaton for a challenge on McGregor and he was replaced by Ikpeazu, who was on the pitch moments before Kent clipped the outside of a post with a drive from 20 yards.
It looked like the Edinburgh outfit would survive the first 45 minutes, but as two minutes of added time were announced the Gorgie defence switched off, and Swedish centre-back Helander got free of Ikpeazu to sweep in a cross from Morelos to change the complexion of both half-time team talks.
When Morelos converted a Tavernier cut-back from four yards two minutes after the interval it was all but over for the Jambos who, to their credit, briefly had a go.
Jack cleared a header from Ikpeazu for a corner which was headed wide by Wighton, before Naismith replaced Smith who had picked up a knock.
But Morelos knocked in a Kent cut-back from a few yards out to make it 3-0 and many Heart fans left the stadium in dejection.
With the Tynecastle side ragged, the Gers striker had the ball in the net again soon afterwards but the offside flag was up and further attempts to secure the match ball were unsuccessful, albeit the main job - a first final against Celtic in eight years - had been completed.
Belfast Telegraph Digital