Ryan Stevenson threw the SPL title race wide open with a goal 13 minutes from time to take all 3 points from champions Rangers at Tynecastle.
In what was an enthralling game of football, Rangers could not make their dominance count in the first hour and the home side took advantage of their one clear-cut attempt on goal late in the match.
Walter Smith resisted temptation and left Nikica Jelavic on the bench and brought Maurice Edu back into the middle of the park. James Beattie was dropped for Naismith and the Gers went for a solid 4-5-1 formation with Lafferty spear-heading the attack. The challengers, Hearts, were the in-form team before kick-off and had to do without Kevin Kyle who missed out this afternoon.
It was a frantic start to the game with Rangers opting for a high pressing game in midfield. Jamie Ness and Maurice Edu were the best performers of the half and they were allowed to support Lafferty with McCulloch holding. Lafferty fired in a low strike in the opening minute which forced a fine save from Kello who would go on to have a magnificent game. The Northern Irish international striker had another good shot saved by the Slovakian keeper and he was able to thwart Naismith with a fine stop from close range.
The impressive 19-year-old Jamie Ness was having another outstanding performance in a Rangers shirt and came close on two occasions to breaking the deadlock. Firstly, he riggled his way through the Hearts defence and had his shot well saved at the near post by Kello. Just a minute later, he nipped in to intercept a pass and then rattled a superb 20-yard effort with his left-foot that flew just over the top.
Rangers' dominance continued early in the second-half with Sasa Papac forcing Kello into another save. However, a number of tactical changes seemed to have a big impact on the game with Hearts going moving Stevenson back into midfield and substitute Gary Glen moved upfront.
The game was beginning to swing in Hearts' favour and even the introduction of Nikica Jelavic could not stop Hearts taking the lead on 77 minutes. It was a terrible goal to lose from Rangers' point of view with a number of basic defensive errors allowing Wallace the space to cut inside and lay-off to Stevenson who bundled home from close range.
Rangers were forced to chase the game and almost got back on level terms late on when Nikica Jelavic produced a moment of individual brilliance and rattled the crossbar from about 8 yards out.
Hearts held on to win their 31st point from an available 33 which has just blown the title race wide open going into the next few months. The Jambos go to Celtic Park on Wednesday night and Rangers will be hoping to get back to winning ways at Easter Road on the same night.
Rangers and Hearts will lock horns again on the 2nd February in what is a massive game for both sides.
Rangers: McGregor, Whittaker, Weir, Bougherra, Papac, Davis, Ness (Weiss), Edu (Fleck), McCulloch, Lafferty (Jelavic)
Subs not used: Alexander, Foster, Webster, Beattie
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