ANOTHER classy Rangers performance consigned Hearts to a heavy defeat at Ibrox this afternoon in the Scottish Premiership.
First-half goals from Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Kent ensured Gers had an interval cushion before a Christophe Berra own-goal and a double from substitute Greg Stewart turned it into a rout in the second period.
Indeed, this is the first time the Light Blues have beaten the Jambos by a five-goal margin since 1980, and they remain level on points at the top of the table.
From the side which earned yet another superb Europa League result on Thursday – drawing 2-2 with Feyenoord in Rotterdam – boss Steven Gerrard named two changes to his starting XI.
In came Joe Aribo and Scott Arfield – they took the places of Ryan Jack and Sheyi Ojo, the latter duo switching to the bench this afternoon.
The first 11 minutes, or so, were rather cagey before Alfredo Morelos brought the place to life with the first chance of any sort for his 25th Gers goal of the season.
Good probing play by Glen Kamara saw him pick out a neat pass wide to the left for Borna Barisic. As he can so often be relied upon to do, the Croatian stood a lovely ball up to the back-post, and coming in on it was Morelos, rising high above Aaron Hickey to continue this outrageous scoring spree of his.
The Colombian had another super opportunity soon afterwards. This time, a brilliant James Tavernier ball into the area from the right fell just behind him, and as he turned to shoot on the loose ball, a combination of Craig Halkett and goalkeeper Joel Pereira were able to prevent him making it two.
At the other end, Uche Ikpeazu missed a glorious opportunity, poking a Jamie Brandon cross wide from six-yards.
On 37 minutes, however, Rangers did grab their second of the match – and it was Ryan Kent with his third goal in the space of a week.
An excellent Scott Arfield ball down the right channel picked out Joe Aribo in space inside the box. The Nigerian got his head up and picked out Kent who had come inside from his left-wing position, and he had a simple finish from inside the six-yard box.
Gers should have had a third within four minutes of the restart for the second half, but Tavernier’s slide-rule pass for Kent after the skipper was put in by another excellent Arfield ball was too close to Pereira who slid out to gather with ease.
Connor Goldson headed a Tavernier corner behind under pressure from Halkett, while Morelos fired wide when put through by Kent, largely in-part due to some good pressure from Hickey.
Goal number three did arrive, however, on 64 minutes. More flowing football from Gers saw Steven Davis play-in Tavernier down the right, and before his cross could reach Morelos, Christophe Berra slid in to turn the ball into his own net.
Sub Ryotaro Meshino tested Allan McGregor in a rare second half attack from the visitors before fellow replacement Greg Stewart made it four on 80 minutes – but he owed it to wonderful persistence from Shyei Ojo.
The ball looked to be running loose under protection from Hickey in the far right of the area, but Ojo made up the yards to nip-in and steal it away from the full-back.
He tested Pereira with an effort at his near-post before the rebound fell wonderfully for Stewart to poke home from close range – that strike being the 10,000th Rangers league goal.
Four minutes later, it was five – and it was Stewart with his second of the game.
Jermain Defoe’s shot was saved by Pereira, though it broke only as far as Stewart. He headed for goal, and Pereira saved yet again, but again pushed it back to the attacker who got a strike away this time, and while Periera looked to have blocked it, he spilled and the loose ball trickled along and then finally over the line.
Gers pushed for another in the closing stages which would have taken them dead-level on points, goal difference and goals scored at the top of the table, but 5-0 is how it finished ahead of the trip to face Aberdeen at Pittodrie on Wednesday.
RANGERS: McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Helander, Barisic; Kamara (Stewart, 74), Davis, Jack; Kent (Ojo, 67), Arfield, Morelos (Defoe, 67)
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, Jack, Katic, Flanagan.
HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN: Pereira, White (Mulraney, 77), Berra, Bozanic, Walker (Damour, 70), Whelan, Naismith, Ikpeazu (Meshino, 70) Bandon, Halkett, Hickey.
SUBS NOT USED: Zlamal, Clare, MacLean, Irving.
REFEREE: Don Robertson