A moment of brilliance from Alfredo Morelos allied with an unforgivable oversight from the match officials ensured Rangers ascended to the summit of the Premiership, despite Scott Arfield receiving the club’s seventh red card of the season.
An ill-tempered, breathless High Noon showdown in Gorgie was ultimately decided by the clinical Colombian, who produced a sumptuous volley to see off Hearts and take his tally for the campaign to 17. However, the hosts were left to lament the failure to flag for offside, with Morelos one of three players in blue ahead of the defensive line when James Tavernier’s free-kick was delivered.
The contentious strike completed an admirable turnaround from Steven Gerrard’s side, who fell behind through a Gareth McAuley own goal but belied fatigue from their Europa League exertions to level through Connor Goldson.
There was further rancour when Arfield was given his marching orders by referee Bobby Madden for a woefully late sliding challenge on Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal after the Czech keeper had smothered a Lassana Coulibaly shot. However, the Jambos were unable to make the most of their numerical advantage as they succumbed to a sixth match without a win, while Rangers moved one point clear of Celtic at the top of the league, albeit the Hoops have a game in hand.
Hearts were able to call upon Christophe Berra, returning to the side a month ahead of schedule following a miraculous recovery from a hamstring tear.
With the aftermath of a gruelling shift against Villarreal on Thursday an understandable consideration, Gerrard made four changes from the side that earned a laudable 0-0 draw at Ibrox.
Ryan Flanagan, Ryan Jack, Joe Worrall and Glenn Middleton all dropped out, with Ovie Ejaria, Eros Grezda, McAuley and Andy Halliday charged with helping the Ibrox side arrest a miserable record in Gorgie.
The Glasgow giants were seeking their first triumph at Tynecastle since April 2012, with their last trip there resulting in a chastening 4-1 defeat, the undoubted zenith of Ian Cathro’s dismal eight months as Hearts head coach.
The Jambos started like a side who fancied their chances of repeating the feat, with Allan McGregor forced to stretch every sinew to tip an Arnaud Djoum header over the bar. At 36 years of age, Scotland’s number one is in the form of his life.
Not only were Craig Levein’s charges on a five-match winless run, they had failed to score in any of those outings. However, Hearts got that particular monkey off their backs after 27 minutes – even if a man in maroon did not claim the goal.
A slick passing move involving Steven MacLean and Oliver Bozanic allowed the latter to send Marcus Godinho scampering free in the right channel of the box and his tantalising low cross proved impossible for McAuley to deal with, forcing the Northern Ireland stalwart to turn the ball into his own net.
Seemingly stung into life, Rangers began to find some attacking impetus of their own. A spectacular diving header from Djoum was required to clear an Ejaria effort off the goal-line; a whipped corner-kick from Tavernier was glanced onto the far post by Morelos and, despite Zlamal blocking Goldson’s initial effort, the big defender managed to bundle the rebound in.
Goldson, who stoked the fires ahead of this encounter by stating “we don’t like them”, lapped up the moment by standing, arms aloft, taunting the seething supporters in the Gorgie Stand.
The visitors completed their comeback in controversial fashion. A superb Tavernier free-kick was superbly volleyed home by Morelos, who has now scored in seven successive league fixtures to equal David Clarkson’s SPFL-era record. However, replays showed that he was clearly offside.
When it comes to cutting a menacing, incisive presence in attack, Morelos is very good. He fizzed a low drive narrowly wide as Rangers sought to extend their advantage after the break.
An increasingly tetchy affair boiled over with 20 minutes remaining. Zlamal made a fine low save to deny Daniel Candeias and recovered superbly to block Coulibaly’s rebound. However, Arfield’s reckless lunge towards the briefly loose ball saw him plant his foot in the keeper’s midriff. Madden immediately brandished a red card before calming the subsequent melee.
For the second successive fixture, Rangers were destined to end the game with 10 men but, just as they did against Villarreal, Gerrard’s men stoically saw out the game.