RANGERS turned in one of their best performances of the season to defeat an well-drilled and stubborn Hearts side at Ibrox Stadium this afternoon.
Goals in either half from Jamie Murphy and Russell Martin mean it’s now four wins on the Light Blues in the Scottish Premiership.
With the chance to close the gap on Celtic to just six points at stake, there was a real sense of anticipation inside Ibrox as kick-off approached.
This, however, was to be no formality in terms of result. Hearts have shown a real level of consistent form recently, particularly in defence, and their game-plan reflected that area of strength.
Craig Levein went with a back-five, making it clear the Jambos would firstly look to contain the Light Blues before venturing forward.
And the opening minutes certainly began that way, with Gers enjoying plenty of possession, but struggling to find space to create anything like a clear-cut chance.
Indeed, the first two real opportunities the home side had came from distance, firstly Sean Goss forcing Jon McLaughlin to push an effort over the bar from 20-yards, before from a similar area, Greg Docherty brought a really smart save out of the Hearts stopper, getting down low to his right to deny him.
At the other end, a rare break and some Gers slackness allowed Kyle Lafferty to let fly from a long way out, with Wes Foderingham this time bringing his fingertips into play to turn his drive over.
The home keeper then had to push a curling Joaquim Adao shot away as Hearts began to enjoy a little more possession in the Rangers half of the field.
The action soon swung the other way again, and Alfredo Morelos should have buried an excellent Declan John cross at the back post, but, under no pressure, he headed wide.
Jamie Murphy was the released into space by Josh Windass, and after getting the better of John Souttar on the edge of the area, he dragged his final effort just wide.
Everything was being played in Hearts’ half, and while chances were still at a premium, eventually the pressure was to tell on them five minutes before the interval.
James Tavernier began a terrific move, chipping a ball over the top for Greg Docherty, before he slipped it through to Jamie Murphy to go one-on-one with McLaughlin.
He took his time beating the goalkeeper, but eventually stuck the ball into the back of the net for his first Ibrox goal to hand Gers the half-time advantage in front of a raucous home crowd.
The second half began with another decent opportunity, with Windass releasing Daniel Candeias to go one-on-one with McLaughlin, although the goalkeeper did well to come and win the ball before the Portuguese winger could take it around him.
It was all Rangers, and Windass should have given his side a cushion, blazing over an Alfredo Morelos cross from the left from around 10-yards out, while David Bates headed a Murphy corner over the bar.
Greg Docherty then again came close to a maiden Gers goal, but McLaughlin denied him after he burst into the area, while Morelos couldn’t quite turn the rebound home.
The chances really were starting to mount for the Light Blues, none better than another for Windass just shy of the hour mark.
From a Hearts corner, Gers worked the ball beautifully to break and got two-on-one, with Candeias and Windass closing in on goal.
The Portuguese slipped-in the Englishman, but his shot was saved again by McLaughlin who had come out to close the angle, before minutes later, the stopper denied Morelos from the edge of the area with another top save.
David Bates then found himself with another opportunity, heading a Tavernier cross onto the roof of the net, while at the other end, in what was pretty much Hearts’ first chance of the half, substitute Steven Naismith almost deflected the ball beyond Foderingham for what would have been an undeserved equaliser.
Windass and McLaughlin’s personal battle then resumed, the goalkeeper again coming out on top to push away a fine free-kick from the attacker, before finally, with just two minutes to go, Rangers put the game to bed.
Jason Cummings was inches away from connecting to a Candeias cross before the ball tricked through to the back-post where Russell Martin was waiting to slide-in and net his first goal in the blue of Rangers.
So 2-0 it finished – it could have been more, but this was an exceptionally satisfactory afternoon for Rangers.
RANGERS: Foderingham; Tavernier, Martin, Bates, John; Docherty, (Holt, 83) Goss; Candeias, Windass, Murphy; Morelos (Cummings, 73).
SUBS NOT USED: Alnwick, Miller, Herrera, Halliday, Alves.
HEARTS: McLaughlin, Smith, Souttar, Hughes, Berra, Lafferty, Callachan, Mitchell, Henderson (McDonald 60), Cochrane (Naismith, 73), Adao, Buaben.
SUBS NOT USED: Hamilton, Randall, Godinho, Irving.