AS the smoke settled and tifo displays were lofted high in Hampden’s east and west stands, the Rangers support was reminded in no uncertain terms quite how significant today’s encounter would prove.

On the screens behind either goal flashed Scottish Cup winners from the tournament’s inception in 1874. Hearts were able to cheer a victory more recently than their opponents, a famed 5-1 win over city rivals Hibs in 2012. Their opponents were less excitable when 2009 success was beamed, particularly given the ensuing dominance of their own neighbours in the competition. Memories of success were fading and certainly not fresh.

The emotional hangover from Wednesday’s Europa League final defeat was palpable. Who couldn’t let the opportunity of a lifetime three days prior play some sort of role? But as Willie Collum blew his first of many, many whistles, everyone inside Scotland’s national stadium was immersed once more in the raw intensity of a cup final. There is always room for hope in football.

Lethargic elements were a feature for Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side who could count on five fresh legs from Wednesday. Leon Balogun conceded that the emotion of this week, which has featured the Frankfurt defeat and the funeral of much-loved kitman Jimmy Bell, left him feeling slightly numb before kick-off. James Tavernier’s touches were often heavy, methods of ball progression were predictable and Hearts threatening.

Signs of encouragement were also present. On three occasions the defensive line was broken and a dangerous position assumed, albeit every time the lack of goalscoring movement in the middle was detrimental and crosses were gobbled up by a Hearts team fielding three centre-backs. Calvin Bassey, again a leader and stalwart throughout, picked out teammates with greater accuracy than Tavernier while Amad garnished the game with potential magic.

Nonetheless, the reliance on line-breaking movement and delivery to create attacking moments didn’t lend to control. Rangers put the ownership of possession up for grabs far too regularly to build the necessary pressure required to beat Craig Gordon.

Hearts had an outlet in Ellis Simms their opponents very clearly did not. He allowed his team to move forwards quickly and directly, occupying the defence and attracting sufficient attention that Nathaniel Atkinson often threatened to run behind unmarked on the right. As in midweek, Rangers’ back four up against a five risked being flanked in dangerous moments.

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It took heroics from Gordon to take the game beyond 90 minutes. Denying Joe Aribo when logic suggested he shouldn't and although this group took the extra-time avenue to reach the final, previous scar tissue meant that the feeling of ‘here we go again’ was heavily present.

To van Bronckhorst’s credit his substitutions, which were chastised on Twitter timelines, proved on the money in reality. Ryan Jack and Glen Kamara didn’t seemingly provide Kemar Roofe’s goal threat or the creativity both Aaron Ramsey and Alex Lowry could boast, yet increased control and turned the dial every slightly in their side’s favour.

That exertion of pressure told when Jack unleashed a shot from outside the box sufficiently special to finally defeat Gordon. Soon after Scott Wright motored up the pitch to create a three-v-two and again found the only area of the goal out of Gordon’s gigantic reach.

Both goals provoked an unleashing of emotion. The pent up anxiety and anticipation carried home from Seville, a prolonged wait for a safe moment to celebrate in a season with so many trapdoors. This was the first major trophy Rangers have lifted in front of fans since 2011, such a moment was long overdue. 

Tavernier, who has waited so very long and been through such abrupt heartbreak in search of Scottish silverware, climbed the Hampden stairs as a victor. Ally McCoist embraced each player as they made the walk, with a personalised message for each participant.

The captain prolonged the lifting of silverware until every one of his teammates had clambered up alongside him. It was a fitting reminder as this group played their final game together before the inevitable summer overhaul that for all their faults and nearly moments at Ibrox, this was a team who will be remembered for what they achieved, rather than what they did not. 

This season and its 65 games are difficult to contextualise and bracket. When probed for a summation, van Bronckhorst fittingly opted for “hectic”. It has proven all-consuming and likely only a period outside of football’s constant noise will provide clarity. But after all, it has ended as every Rangers season should, with silverware held high.