1:39:13 AMRangers 2-0 Hearts
|Rangers 2-0 Hearts|
Rangers moved to within a point of Scottish Premier League leaders Celtic with victory over a toothless Hearts.
Kris Boyd hit the bar with a clever lob before Andrius Velicka drilled the hosts in front at Ibrox.
Hearts, poor with the exception of Andrew Driver, were correctly denied a penalty when Calum Elliot tumbled in the box as Steven Whittaker hovered.
Boyd's 30th goal of the season sealed the points as Rangers narrowed the gap ahead of next weekend's Old Firm derby.
Mike Tullberg almost gave Hearts the lead within three minutes after Driver's menacing run and cross, but his shot was well saved by Neil Alexander.
After that early chance, the opening 25 minutes was fairly low key with neither side willing to commit too many men forward.
With Madjid Bougherra suspended, Lee McCulloch took his place in the centre of defence alongside David Weir.
But the Edinburgh side failed to put the makeshift pairing under any real pressure.
Rangers were struggling to create anything of note for strikers Boyd and Velicka and Hearts goalkeeper Marian Kello was a virtual spectator until saving comfortably from Steven Smith's 25-yard free-kick.
Bruno Aguiar then tested Alexander at the second attempt 11 minutes before the break in a rare foray forward for the Portuguese midfielder.
And Hearts spurned a great chance in the 39th minute when central defender Christos Karipidis sent a header over the bar from Driver's deep cross.
That miss for the visitors sparked Rangers into life and midfielder Maurice Edu screwed a shot wide from just outside the box after Velicka's clever knock-down.
Boyd looked to have given Rangers the lead on the stroke of half-time when his lob over the helpless Kello came back off the bar and bounced to safety.
Seconds later Velicka gave Rangers the lead - his fourth goal in as many games - when he drilled the ball home from close range after Boyd headed Steven Smith's corner back across goal.
The second half started in similar fashion to the first, with goalmouth action at a premium.
Hearts appealed unsuccessfully for a penalty on the hour mark after Elliot went down in the box under the close attention of Whittaker.
But replays showed referee Iain Brines was correct to wave away the appeals as the Hearts striker tripped over his own feet.
Davis should have made the points safe five minutes later, but he dithered before shooting and his weak effort was blocked by Kello.
Boyd then converted Kenny Miller's low cross to secure what could prove to be a crucial three points ahead of next Saturday's Old Firm derby at Ibrox.
Rangers manager Walter Smith: "I felt we deserved to win the game, but I didn't think we played as well as we have done in recent matches.
"We were a little indifferent in terms of our overall possession of the ball.
"The game we drew here against Hearts last time, we played far better.
"But the important thing at this stage is to win the games. And I felt we just deserved to win today.
"Hearts are awkward to play against they have five in the middle and have wide players who can cause a problem.
"So it was good result taking everything into account. The changes we've had to make recently have maybe upset the rhythm a little bit, but certainly not our desire to win matches."
Hearts manager Csaba Laszlo: "I think it was a penalty but if the referee doesn't give it then I can't change it. These are small details.
"If I talk about the referee, he won't come back tomorrow and give us the penalty.
"If we play like we did today against Hibs at home on Thursday then we have a good chance of winning."
Rangers: Alexander, Dailly, McCulloch, Weir, Whittaker, Davis, Mendes, Edu, Steven Smith (Lafferty 74), Boyd, Velicka (Miller 55). Subs Not Used: McGregor, Hemdani, Novo, Little, Wylde.
Booked: Steven Smith.
Goals: Velicka 45, Boyd 89.
Hearts: Kello, Neilson, Karipidis, Zaliukas, Jonsson, Obua (Kingston 85), Stewart, Aguiar, Driver, Tullberg (Nade 54), Elliot. Subs Not Used: Balogh, Mrowiec, Thomson, Templeton, Husband.
Booked: Stewart, Neilson.
Ref: I Brines
BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: Hearts' Andrew Driver 8.19 (on 90 minutes).
• Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport's Player Rater after the match has finished.
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