Rangers keep up pressure on Celtic
Rangers cut the gap with Celtic at the top of the Scottish Premier League to five points with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Hearts at Ibrox.
The visitors arrived in Glasgow just two points behind second-placed Rangers and were looking for a repeat of the 1-0 win they produced over them at Tynecastle 11 days ago. However any hopes Hearts had of picking up a win that would have seen them split the Old Firm were dealt a blow as early as the fourth minute when Kyle Lafferty superbly volleyed home the opener.
Rangers loan signing El Hadji Diouf made his debut from the bench and the volatile Senegal international came in for some harsh treatment from a Hearts team that finished with six players booked. Neither keeper was really tested until Steven Davis had the ball in the net in injury time but it was ruled out for offside as Rangers, who have two games in hand, gained revenge and moved closer to Celtic.
At Ibrox Rangers made two changes with Jamie Ness and Vladimir Weiss replacing Nikica Jelavic and Steven Naismith while new signings Diouf and Northern Ireland striker David Healy had to make do with a place on the bench.
But it was Healy's international teammate Lafferty who grabbed the early headlines with a superbly crafted goal in the fourth minute. The striker played a cross-field pass to Steven Whittaker before racing into the box where he met the defender's inch-perfect cross with a volley that flew into the bottom right-hand corner.
Rudi Skacel's weak effort from 30 yards trickled harmlessly wide as Hearts chances in front of goal were restricted. Rangers fans did not have to wait long for their first sight of the controversial Diouf when he replaced the injured Lee McCulloch in the 28th minute.
Allan McGregor stretched to tip a Marius Zaliukas header on to the bar after the Lithuanian connected well with Craig Thomson's floated free-kick but moments later the Hearts captain found himself in the referee's book for a push on Diouf.
The Senegalese international seemed to have been singled out for some harsh treatment from the Hearts player and Ian Black was next to receive a yellow for a late lunge. Eggert Jonsson was next to be booked as he brought down Weiss on the wing as Hearts looked increasingly unlikely to end the match with a full compliment of players. Diouf took the free-kick which David Weir headed just over as Rangers couldn't add to their lead before the break.
Rangers came close to doubling their lead through an unlikely source in the 50th minute when a good one-two between Madjid Bougherra and Davis saw the Algerian slam a volley off the legs of Marian Kello from a tight angle.
Maurice Edu should have done better on the hour mark when Diouf picked him out with a lofted pass to the far post but the American delayed too long and his half-volley was blocked. Davis thought he had scored in injury time when he slid in to lash the ball in after Kello had made a point-blank save from Diouf but the flag was up for offside.
Elsewhere, Hibernian scored for the first time in 2011 to win 2-0 against St Mirren and Kilmarnock defeated Motherwell 1-0.