TEN-MAN Rangers showed tremendous passion and commitment as they roared to a stunning victory over champions Hearts at Ibrox Stadium.
On a glorious day in Glasgow, first half goals from Kenny Miller and Haris Vuckic proved crucial for the Light Blues who saw Lee McCulloch sent off minutes before half time for an elbow challenge on Osman Sow.
From there it was always going to be an uphill battle for Stuart McCall’s side but every Rangers player deserves praise for their effort, including substitutes Bilel Mohnsi, Ian Black and Robbie Crawford who made his first appearance of the campaign.
Genero Zeefuik pulled one back for the visitors with a tap-in with eight minutes remaining but Rangers held on to record a memorable win against all the odds.
McCall made two changes to his team announced an hour before kick off with Marius Zaliukas returning to the back four in place of Mohsni with Vuckic also getting the nod to play ahead of David Templeton.
In a surprise twist, however, the manager elected to shift Nicky Law out to the left wing with Dean Shiels featuring alongside youngster Andy Murdoch in the engine room.
The Rangers players created a guard of honour for Robbie Neilson’s men as they walked on to the pitch but after that show of respect the Light Blues started the game well.
After just two minutes a clever corner was played out to Law who was unmarked 25 yards from Neil Alexander’s goal.
The midfielder controlled the ball well but his right foot effort was saved by the former Gers keeper who managed to hold the ball in front of the Broomloan Stand.
Hearts, who had scored 32 goals in nine consecutive wins in the lead up to today’s contest, were always going to be a threat going forward and on 12 minutes Darren McGregor had to produce a tremendous last-ditch challenge to deny Sow who made a powerful run to get into the box.
Jamie Walker then fired a long-range effort from distance which dipped and swerved past Cammy Bell’s post.
On 29 minutes, however, Rangers made the breakthrough as they pushed men forward on the break and got their reward.
Law drove into Hearts’ half before laying the ball off to the overlapping Lee Wallace. The former Jambo was again superb this afternoon and when he curled a low cross into the danger area Kenny Miller swept a tidy finish into the net from six yards.
Ibrox erupted as fans celebrated the opener but for the next five minutes the players in blue had to stay focused, and this was the instructions coming from the technical area as McCall and Kenny Black barked orders to their troops.
A rasping free kick from Alim Ozturk stung the knuckles of Bell as he punched the ball clear before Walker sent another shot wide after the Gers number one had been put under pressure by Darren McGregor’s tricky back pass.
On 38 minutes, however, Rangers got their second goal and it was a thing of beauty from Vuckic who received the ball in a wide position from Shiels.
The big Slovenian cut back inside on to his cultured left boot before curling a superb shot inside Alexander’s far post.
The stadium was now rocking but within five minutes of doubling their advantage Rangers were dealt a blow when McCulloch was shown a straight red.
The skipper appeared to catch Sow with an elbow as they challenged for a high ball but ref Bobby Madden let play continue before going to his pocket to send Jig for an early bath.
For three minutes before the break it was a scene of chaos as the Rangers players tried to regroup and find their shape with Hearts looking to take advantage.
The interval gave McCall time to assess the situation and for the restart Mohsni was introduced with scorer Vuckic the unfortunate player to make way.
The Tunisian slotted in on the left of a three-man defence in a 3-5-1 formation with Law and Wallace taking up the wide positions and Nicky Clark playing as the lone striker.
The pressure was now on the Hearts players to get back into the game but before the hour mark they had failed to trouble Cammy Bell.
Indeed, on 58 minutes, man-of-the-match Law did brilliantly to create the next real opportunity in the game. The Englishman used his pace to sprint 70 yards down the right wing, leaving Danny Wilson and then Walker in his wake. He then delivered a great ball into Clark but his first-time shot was easily gathered by Alexander.
As the game progressed McCall made further changes to his team with Robbie Crawford replacing Kenny Miller, who worked tirelessly, before Ian Black went on for Dean Shiels.
Crawford almost netted his side’s third goal when he tried to curl a left foot effort in but Danny Wilson was there to make a block with Alexander beaten.
At the other end Hearts ensured there would be a dramatic finish when Genero Zeefuik pulled a goal back with just eight minutes left.
A deep cross to the back post was nodded down to the Dutchman who had the easiest of tasks to prod the ball into the net.
Rangers now had to dig even deeper into their dwindling energy reserves with the visitors keeping the pressure on with their extra man.
A loud groan could be heard around the stadium as the fourth official announced four minutes of injury time but the players in blue did brilliantly to hold out and, with every bluenose in the ground behind them, they secured three points thanks to an outstanding team display.
RANGERS (4-4-2): Bell; McGregor, McCulloch, Zaliukas, Wallace; Shiels (Black 77), Law, Murdoch, Vuckic (Mohsni 46); Miller (Crawford 72), Clark
SUBS NOT USED: Simonsen, Templeton, Hardie, Boyd
GOALS: Miller 28, Vuckic 38
BOOKINGS: Miller, Bell, Black
SENT OFF: McCulloch 43
HEARTS (4-4-2): Alexander; Paterson, Ozturk, Wilson, McHattie (Keatings 75); Nicholson, Pallardo, Gomis (King 60), Sow; Walker, Zeefuik
SUBS NOT USED: Hamilton, El Hassnaoui, Anderson, McKay, McGhee
GOALS: Zeefuik 82
REF: Bobby Madden