Rangers extended their lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League after Nacho Novo's late strike secured a 1-0 win over Hamilton Academical. Walter Smith's side laboured for long periods at New Douglas Park before Novo finally broke the deadlock with 12 minutes remaining. The Spaniard's goal allowed the defending champions to pull ten points clear of second-placed Celtic, but Tony Mowbray's men can close the gap with a victory against Falkirk today and also have another game in hand still to play.
Rangers captain David Weir said: "It's always tough, any time you go away in the SPL it's a tough game. We never played well enough in the first half, but I thought in the second half we improved and I'm delighted for Nacho, getting the goal.
"You don't get anything easy coming to places like this. You've got to work hard and do the dirty jobs."
Smith made three changes to the side held to a 3-3 draw by Hamilton in the Scottish Cup last Sunday. Kenny Miller and Lee McCulloch were both suspended and Kris Boyd was sidelined after undergoing groin surgery, with Novo, Kevin Thomson and Maurice Edu coming in.
Novo gave Rangers an early opening when he flicked on for Kyle Lafferty, but the Northern Ireland striker fired over under pressure from Hamilton goalkeeper Tomas Cerny. Hamilton squandered a golden opportunity to take a shock lead when Simon Mensing slipped a pass through to Mickael Antoine-Curier, who touched on for Marco Paixao, but he smashed his effort wide from close-range.
Mensing went even closer when he blasted a shot past Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor, only for Danny Wilson to clear off the line. Antoine-Curier was a constant menace in the first half and he tried his luck with a powerful strike that flashed wide of the target. Steven Davis shot over from just outside the area as Rangers struggled to find any fluidity before the break.
Smith would have demanded a far more dynamic display at half-time and Rangers were able to pile on more pressure after the break. Steven Whittaker was close with a well-struck effort that whistled across the face of goal. Whittaker had another chance when he collected a Davis ball out on the left only to shoot into the side-netting with a weak effort.
Lafferty should have done better than head over with a tame effort midway through the half. Antoine-Curier was agonisingly close to putting Hamilton ahead moments later, but his snap-shot just missed the target.
Paixao threatened with a superb overhead kick that was just off target and Rangers went ahead in the 78th minute. Sasa Papac picked out substitute John Fleck and his shot was parried by Cerny to Novo, who squeezed home from an acute angle.