Nikica Jelavic's superb free-kick fired Rangers to a 1-0 win at Hamilton today that kept the champions in touch with leaders Celtic.
Walter Smith's side were well below their best against the league's bottom club, but they still managed to take the points as Jelavic curled home a first half free-kick after Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor had saved Dougie Imrie's penalty.
Rangers are now two points behind Celtic and have played the same number of games as their Glasgow rivals, setting up the prospect of dramatic battle for the title over the final weeks of the season.
Smith believes the return to fitness of several key players could be a decisive factor as the Gers try to overhaul Celtic. "It will certainly help us, there is no doubt about that," he said. "I would hope we would get a little bit of freshness. The players are giving a great deal so it's not a complaint about my team today and I'm sure they will show a good reaction in Wednesday's game at Aberdeen."
Hamilton spurn chance
Hamilton had a golden opportunity to take the lead when referee Alan Muir ruled that Steven Davis had fouled Imrie in the area with 16 minutes gone. Imrie took the spot-kick himself but shot tamely at McGregor and the Scotland goalkeeper kept the scoreline level with an easy save.
Accies still looked capable of grabbing the opener and Ali Crawford whipped over a dangerous cross into the goal-mouth that was missed by David Buchanan before bouncing off Gary McDonald and just failing to cross the line.
Rangers applied some pressure of their own and Maurice Edu drew a decent block from Tomas Cerny before the goalkeeper prevented Jelavic's point-blank strike from finding the back of the net moments later.
Jelavic strikes on the whistle
It wasn't long before Croatian striker Jelavic was celebrating. A minute from the interval he was fouled by Alex Neil just outside the area and brushed himself off to bend his free-kick into the top corner.
Hamilton's James Chambers should have done better with a shot from the edge of the box that he blasted well over early in the second half. Edu had suffered a knock to his head earlier in the game and he was replaced by El-Hadji Diouf for the last 20 minutes and the on-loan Blackburn forward tried his luck with a shot that was blocked by Mark Carrington.
Accies almost snatched late leveller when substitute James McAlister unleashed a ferocious shot that produced a fine save from McGregor.