Hearts extended their winning run to five matches under manager Csaba Laszlo with victory over Rangers at a packed Tynecastle.
The Edinburgh club admitted ahead of the game that their players had not been paid for the second time in this campaign, but with a fifth consecutive win bonus to collect, they’d be hoping the funds would be in their accounts come Monday morning.
Rangers, who came into the match trailing league leaders Celtic by four points, welcomed back centre-half Majid Bougherra to their defence, while Hearts were boosted by the return of Laryea Kingston, although Laszlo’s side were forced to change their goalkeeper, with Jamie MacDonald replacing Janos Balogh.
The home side threatened as early as the opening minute with Andrew Driver’s right-foot shot comfortably held by Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor.
The visitors had the chance to gain an early advantage with a free-kick from just outside the box after Robbie Neilson handled the ball. Pedro Mendes played the set-piece short to Kris Boyd but he blasted well wide of the target.
Hearts took the lead after 20 minutes when Bruno Aguiar’s free-kick found Christophe Berra and his header crashed off the post. The ball broke to Marius Zaliukas, who rifled home the rebound.
Hearts increased their lead just three minutes later, with another set-piece from Aguiar wreaking havoc in the box. Berra again connected and saw his header blocked by goalkeeper Allan McGregor before Kingston bundled over the line with his head on his return from injury.
Rangers were undeterred and pulled a goal back with 26 minutes on the clock. Christos Karipidis and Kris Boyd both rose in the box to meet a Charlie Adam free-kick, the Hearts player’s header came off the underside of the bar and Karipidis succeeded only in helping the ball into his own net in his attempts to clear.
Steven Whittaker’s mistake five minutes before half-time almost gifted Hearts the chance to regain their two-goal advantage. Kingston was unfortunate not to add to his tally after he played a neat one-two with Aguiar but his shot was saved.
Rangers made their first change ten minutes after the restart when Adam was withdrawn, allowing Chris Burke to make his first appearance of the season. Kingston was still looking dangerous for Hearts and drew an impressive save from McGregor from a powerful long-range drive as the home side attempted to add to their lead. That proved to be his last contribution to the game as he was replaced by Eggert Jonsson with just more than an hour gone.
With time fast running out for Rangers, Nacho Novo was thrown into the action in place of Jean-Claude Darcheville.
The Ibrox side’s cause was then aided when Lee Wallace picked up his second yellow card for a foul on Burke and was dismissed with 14 minutes to go. Rangers claimed a penalty at the end with Neilson appearing to pull at Boyd’s jersey but no award was forthcoming and they returned to Ibrox empty-handed.
Hearts: MacDonald, Neilson, Wallace, Zaliukas, Karipidis, Berra, Kingston, Palazuelos, Nade, Aguiar, Driver.