RANGERS 2 HEARTS 1
Ten-man Rangers moved into second place in the Scottish Championship after a 2-1 win over runaway title winners Hearts at Ibrox.
Goals from striker Kenny Miller and the returning midfielder Haris Vuckic had the home side two ahead before captain Lee McCulloch was shown a straight red card by referee Bobby Madden for a forearm smash on Hearts striker Osman Sow.
Hearts huffed and puffed in the second half but the home side defended with a degree of comfort until Jambos striker Genero Zeefuik reduced the deficit in the 83rd minute.
However, the Light Blues held out to inflict the first away league defeat of the season on Robbie Neilson’s men and move three points ahead of promotion rivals Hibernian as the season moves closer to an exciting climax.
Both sides were buoyant ahead of a fixture rescheduled after the original game was abandoned in January because of a snowstorm.
Marius Zaliukas, absent last weekend on international duties for Lithuania, replaced Bilel Mohsni in the Gers’ defence while midfielder Vuckic came in for David Templeton.
Hearts also showed two changes with midfielder Sam Nicholson and defender Kevin McHattie in for Billy King and Adam Eckersley respectively, the latter out altogether.
The Rangers players gave the champions a guard of honour as they came out before the start of the match.
However, it was Jambos keeper Neil Alexander, formerly of Rangers, who was called into action before two minutes had elapsed, diving to his right to save a long-distance Nicky Law drive following a Vuckic corner.
Hearts were slow to get going but in the 13th minute Rangers right-back Darren McGregor put in a saving tackle on Sow inside the box before Jamie Walker fired in a 25-yard drive which skipped past Cammy Bell’s left-hand post.
Miller’s goal, which ended a lull in proceedings, was rather simple.
Law spread the ball wide to Lee Wallace and when the former Hearts defender’s cross came into the packed penalty area it found the veteran striker who steered it past Alexander.
The Gorgie side were stung into action. Bell fisted away a powerful Alim Ozturk free-kick from 25 yards before Nicholson returned a shot just wide of the post.
Bell then recovered a poor clearance to Walker by saving from the Jambos’ midfielder.
But Hearts went to sleep again in defence and found themselves two down when Vuckic took a pass inside the box from Dean Shiels, turned on to his left foot and curled a shot past Alexander into the far corner for his fifth goal in as many games.
The Ibrox men had taken control but the game took a turn two minutes from the break after McCulloch had left Sow crumpled in a heap 40 yards from goal.
Referee Madden allowed Hearts’ attack to continue then fizzle out before dismissing the Gers skipper to no great protest, and a fraught second half was promised to the home fans.
Mohsni replaced Vuckic at the interval as the home side went to a back three, with Miller dropping back to midfield and Nicky Clark playing as the lone striker.
Unsurprisingly the Tynecastle men began to dictate the play but to no great effect and in the 57th minute, Law ran 60 yards before setting up Clark but his powder-puff shot was easily gathered by Alexander.
Rangers began to look increasingly assured but Hearts pulled a goal back with seven minutes remaining when Bell saved a Sow header from an Ozturk cross only to see the ball break free to Zeefuik to tap into an empty net.
A grandstand finale ensued but some desperate defending allowed the Govan men to enjoy their first win over Hearts this season and keep them on track for a return to the top flight.