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By ESPN Staff

McCulloch hails Rangers' fighting spirit against Hearts

Lee McCulloch insists Rangers' dramatic comeback against Hearts proved they have the mettle to succeed again this season as the Scottish champions attempt to defend their crown.

Walter Smith's men looked set to drop points in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League clash at Tynecastle when they fell behind to a David Witteveen strike after being reduced to 10 men.

However, McCulloch threw Rangers a lifeline when he restored parity after the break before Kris Boyd came off the bench to grab the winner from the penalty spot in the final minute.

''I think it shows we've got character,'' said McCulloch. ''Coming in at half-time after not playing the best in the first half and a man down away from home, you are obviously up against it.

''To go and score two goals and not give them any clear-cut chances says a hell of a lot about us. It was hard work. It was a really physical game and the first half was probably hard to watch.

''There were a lot of balls in the air and it was a bit of a scrap. That was their third game in a week but I think we started like it was our third game.''

Kevin Thomson - making his first start since suffering a serious knee injury last November - was shown a straight red card by referee Craig Thomson for a challenge on Ian Black after just 14 minutes.

''We were sloppy, bad in possession and when Thommo got sent off it put us on the back foot a bit.

''They scored a goal but we changed our formation at half time and I thought we deserved to win the game.''

McCulloch said: ''I asked the referee and he said he caught him with his trailing leg and it was a sending off.

''To be honest I don't know. It didn't look too bad from where I was standing.

''I didn't think the referee was too bad today and, if he had just booked him, I would have said he had a great game.'' The defeat was Hearts' third in a week, following a 2-0 reverse at the hands of Dundee United in their SPL opener on Monday and a 4-0 thrashing against Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League.

Hopes had been high of repeating last season's third place finish in the SPL but Eggert Jonsson admits more new players must be recruited before the end of the month for that to happen.

''Definitely, I think especially up front we need a bit of strength,'' he said. ''We lost a few good, experienced guys and we've not really replaced them.

''Hopefully the manager is able to bring in some guys to strengthen the squad before the window closes.''

With both Michael Stewart and Marius Zaliukas suspended for the visit of Rangers, the captain's armband was worn by Jonsson.

''It doesn't mean a lot after losing the game,'' he admitted. ''It's probably the last thing on my mind right now. It means nothing after a day like this.''


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