Early goals from Alfredo Morelos and Joe Aribo were enough to secure cinch Premiership leaders Rangers a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Hearts in an entertaining match at Tynecastle.
It was the Ibrox side’s sixth consecutive league win, and their fourth since the arrival of new manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst, but the hosts – who had Josh Ginnelly sent off late on – hit the woodwork twice and spurned several good chances to get back into the game.
There were four changes to the Hearts XI that started against Livingston as Taylor Moore, Peter Haring, Gary Mackay-Steven and Ginnelly replaced Michael Smith, Alex Cochrane, Aaron McEneff and Ben Woodburn.
Van Bronckhorst made six alterations to the Rangers side that began Thursday’s 1-1 draw away to Lyon as Jon McLaughlin, Scott Wright, Nathan Patterson, John Lundstram, Kemar Roofe and Ianis Hagi made way for Allan McGregor, James Tavernier, Morelos, Fashion Sakala, Scott Arfield and Aribo.
The hosts made a strong start and Liam Boyce had a great chance to open the scoring in the third minute when he ran on to John Souttar’s clipped ball over the top, but the Northern Ireland striker saw his lob tipped over by McGregor.
Two minutes later, Hearts midfielder Cammy Devlin saw a shot blocked by Calvin Bassey from Ginnelly’s cutback.
However, it was Rangers who scored with their first chance of the match after nine minutes when Ryan Kent’s cross reached Sakala wide on the right and the Zambian jinked past Devlin before cutting the ball back into the path of Morelos who fired home from six yards out.
Sakala then shot just past the post from close range before Morelos headed wide from Tavernier’s corner as the visitors looked to turn the screw.
Their second goal came in the 13th minute when Aribo ran on to a brilliant long diagonal from Connor Goldson and fired an angled low shot beyond the exposed Craig Gordon.
Hearts tried to find a way back into the game and Boyce and Ginnelly both shot just wide from distance.
McGregor then made a good save to deny Boyce after he had been released in the box by a Devlin pass four minutes before the break.
Hearts continued to probe in the second half and Mackay-Steven saw his angled shot from the right pushed behind by McGregor at the near post after working a short corner with Ginnelly.
Rangers had a let-off in the 53rd minute when Bassey knocked a Ginnelly cross off the underside of his own crossbar. Four minutes later shot just wide from the angle of the box as the hosts continued to ask questions.
Rangers remained a threat, however, and Arfield and Sakala were both denied by saves from Gordon around the hour. The goalkeeper then made another good stop to deny Morelos before the Colombian turned the loose ball back into the path of Arfield, who shot wide with the goal gaping.
Hearts were not finished, though, and Boyce fired over from close range after being set up by Mackay-Steven before Stephen Kingsley cracked a free kick off the bar from 30 yards out.
The sting was taken out of the hosts’ comeback bid in the 80th minute when Ginnelly was sent off after being shown a second yellow card for squaring up to Borna Barisic.