Ten-man Hearts extended their winning run to five matches with victory over Rangers at Tynecastle, as the Ibrox club were set back in their pursuit of regaining the SPL title after a four-year drought.
The goals from Marius Zaliukas and Laryea Kingston, within three minutes of each other, hinted at a comfortable victory for the Gorgie side, but Christos Karipidis’s own goal soon afterwards and the 76th-minute ordering-off of left-back Lee Wallace gave the visitors a chance of a comeback. However, they didn’t have the spirit to exploit their advantage.
The deadly burst from Hearts midway through the first half was the most potent evidence of the progress made since their loss to the other half of the Old Firm – a 2-0 defeat by Celtic – at Tynecastle a month for.
Hearts showed a spirit and commitment about them that had been absent before their run. In truth, neither side had presented much of a threat before Zaliukas’s goal, but Hearts had dominated possession.
They had threatened as early as the opening minute when Andrew Driver’s right-foot shot was claimed by Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor.
Rangers had the chance to test Hearts goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald in the 15th minute when Robbie Neilson was penalised on the edge of the box for handball, but Kris Boyd’s shot from Pedro Mendes’ lay-off was wildly off target.
Both the home side’s goals came from free-kicks by Bruno Aguiar. For the first he delivered from the left to Christophe Berra, whose header into a ruck of players was not cleared, allowing Zaliukas to step in and, from only four yards, drive the ball over the line.
The second was strikingly similar, Aguiar’s free-kick was again headed into the goalmouth by Berra, this time finding Kingston, who stooped to head home from close range.
There was an element of neglect in the Hearts defence, too, Rangers pulled a goal back, also from a free-kick. Charlie Adam played the ball in from the right, Berra allowed Boyd to make the header, the ball came down off the crossbar and, rushing back to try to clear, Greek defender Karipidis simply bundled the ball into his own net.
Steven Whittaker’s mistake five minutes before half-time almost gifted Hearts a third goal as Kingston played a one-two with Aguiar, but the midfielder, with only McGregor to beat, hit the shot straight at the him.
Such an incisive move would not be repeated until well into the second period, when Spaniard Rubén Palazuelos showed excellent control before sending Kingston through the inside-right channel. This time, the Ghanaian hit his drive from around 25 yards and it was accurate enough to have McGregor diving to his right to deflect the ball for a corner.
Mendes’ ambitious volley from the right-hand side was then deflected over the bar by Berra’s head, but a goal-kick was awarded by the officials.
Having coped rather comfortably with Rangers’ attempts at achieving parity, Hearts were left shocked by the loss of Wallace, since his dismissal seemed so unnecessary. The Rangers substitute, Chris Burke, was just inside the Hearts half when he took possession and moved down the right. Wallace chased and lunged, taking the winger from behind when he was still in an unthreatening position. Having been cautioned for a foul on the same player just six minutes before, the left-back was shown a red card.
Rangers pressed for a late leveller but were unable to trouble Jamie MacDonald’s goal with Kirk Broadfoot firing wide in injury time.
Hearts: MacDonald, Neilson, Wallace, Zaliukas, Karipidis, Berra, Kingston, Palazuelos, Nade, Aguiar, Driver.