Recent weeks have seen Heart of Midlothian supporters begin to look upward at the Old Firm – but Saturday’s chastening defeat at Ibrox brought them crashing back down to Earth.

Who could blame them for being optimistic about their team’s chances? Glasgow has never been a particularly happy hunting ground for Hearts, but they traveled to Govan as the Premiership’s in-form side. Their previous trip along the M8 resulted in a 2-0 win at Celtic Park and the hope was that they could repeat the trick against Rangers.

It quickly transpired that that wasn’t going to happen, though. Within a matter of seconds, Mohammed Diomande rifled Rangers ahead - and the league leaders never looked back as they went on to chalk up a resounding 5-0 success. 

READ MORE: Steven Naismith explains Hearts defeat at Rangers - and Yutaro Oda update - Q&A

A bad day at the office

The game was all but over by half-time, and so we will largely focus on Hearts' first-half display. A quick glance at the match stats would tell you that there wasn’t all that much between the two sides, but this does not tell the full story. Rangers’ xG of 1.34 was higher than the 0.51 that Hearts accrued, but the gulf shouldn’t have resulted in such a heavy defeat.

On the face of it, it doesn’t seem to be as bad for Hearts as the scoreline suggests. Yes, Rangers attempted more shots and a higher proportion of them were on target, but Steven Naismith’s side did manage to test Jack Butland’s goal. Over the 90 minutes, the men in maroon mustered 11 efforts at goal, and five of those were on target.

It’s a similar story when we examine the possession stats. Again, Rangers had the upper hand here but not by much. The hosts’ passing accuracy was slightly better than Hearts’, but there was a stark contrast off the ball. Despite having more of the ball, Rangers attempted far more pressures than Hearts, and won the ball back more often.

Context, however, is key. Take a look at the xG race chart below.

Hearts might well have racked up some chances, but almost all of them arrived when Rangers were already 4-0 up and the game was dead and buried. And of the opportunities they did fashion, none had a particularly good chance of finding the net. A Kenneth Vargas attempt shortly after the fourth goal was Hearts’ best chance of the game, yet it had an xG of 0.09. We can see from the graphic below that Naismith's men didn't have a shot from 12 yards or within.

Many of Rangers’ attempts had a relatively low xG but the second, third, fourth and fifth goals all had a higher xG than Hearts’ best effort in the entire game. Put simply: when Rangers fashioned good chances, they went in.

READ MORE: Hearts analysis: Reality check, worst start, formation debate, any positives?

Inviting shots from distance

A look at Rangers’ shot map is telling. The final three goals came from areas you would expect – within 12 yards of goal and between the posts – but many of the home side’s efforts were struck from distance, particularly during the first half.

It isn’t hard to see why. Diomande showed how effective they can be within the opening minute or so, and only some fine stops from Zander Clark denied long-range efforts from Ridvan Yilmaz and James Tavernier. With the back three sitting deep, Hearts didn’t apply enough pressure on the edge of their own box – and Rangers took full advantage.

The graphic above shows the areas where Hearts applied pressure to their opponents in the first half. Most of Hearts’ pressing was done near the halfway line and on the flanks but once Rangers bypassed this, Hearts’ centre-backs sat off Clement’s side and invited shots from pressure. It led directly to the opening goal and could have easily resulted in one or two more. You simply cannot allow teams of Rangers’ quality the opportunity to hit pot-shots at goal from 25 yards, yet Hearts did it time and again on Saturday. The defence was too passive - and they paid dearly for it.

READ MORE: Second-half Hearts: The contrast and Steven Naismith's in-game ability explained

Hearts penned in

Hearts’ approach off the ball was asking for trouble, and they weren’t all that much better on it. Take a look at the two teams’ passing networks from the first half below.

Lawrence Shankland and Kenneth Vargas weren’t especially involved during the opening 45 minutes and struggled to get on the ball whatsoever. This isn’t entirely surprising, given they were feeding off scraps for the vast majority. But take a look at Beni Baningime. He didn’t play more than four passes to anyone and had mustered just 18 in total before being hooked on the hour. He was virtually anonymous in possession.

We can also see that most of the passes played by Stephen Kingsley, Nathaniel Atkinson and Calem Nieuwenhof took place in a similar area of the pitch. When Hearts were building out from the back, this is often where the move broke down. Atkinson was the biggest culprit and was dispossessed seven times in total (no other Hearts player was dispossessed more than twice), and so Rangers pressed accordingly. Almost all of the home side’s pressure took place in this area, and with good reason: it worked.

The end result was that, barring a seven-minute spell around the 30-minute mark, Hearts struggled to get beyond the halfway line. Hopeful long balls were played into the channels for Vargas and Shankland to chase, but the Rangers defence made short work of them. Frankie Kent (17), Zander Clark (14) and Alex Cochrane (12) attempted more long passes than any other Hearts players but of the 53 in total, only 17 found their man.

On the ball, Hearts couldn't build out. Off of it, they invited too many long shots and didn't apply enough pressure in the right areas. When you do that away to the Old Firm, the outcome is almost always the same: comprehensive defeat. And that's exactly what transpired on Saturday.