Edinburgh: Hearts opened a commanding nine-point lead at the top of the Scottish Championship as they defeated nearest challengers Rangers 2-0 in a fiercely-contested clash at Tynecastle on Saturday.
The visitors were forced to play the majority of the match with ten men after Steven Smith saw red in the 21st minute for a reckless tackle on Callum Paterson but it took until the 56th minute for Jason Holt to fire Hearts in front.
Rangers tried to immediately respond with Neil Alexander stopping a Nicky Law volley and Lewis McLeod hitting the post but it was Hearts who added a second as Jamie Walker slammed home an 88th minute penalty after he had been felled by Ian Black, one of 10 players to pick up yellow cards in the fiery encounter.
It completes a double for unbeaten Hearts over Rangers this season following their opening day win at Ibrox as the sides battle it out for the one automatic promotion spot back to the Scottish Premiership.
The defeat heaps pressure on Gers gaffer Ally McCoist who has suffered three defeats in just 14 matches with the visiting supporters making their frustrations heard at the end.
Rangers made three changes from their disappointing draw with Alloa as Kris Boyd dropped to the bench to allow Jon Daly to partner Kenny Miller up front while Lee Wallace and Bilel Mohsni returned in defence.
The opening exchanges were peppered with nasty challenges as both sides tried to exert their influence on the match.
Rangers were the first to make some headway with Lee Wallace earning a corner after some good work down the left and Darren McGregor fired wide from the resultant corner.
However, the visitors` hopes of victory were dealt a blow in the 21st minute as a reckless challenge from Smith on Paterson earned himself a straight red card.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, Rangers continued to force the play and Paterson soon picked up a yellow card for dragging down Law just outside the box. The resultant free-kick was played low to Wallace on the penalty spot but he blazed his effort high over.
The Gers then earned another free-kick 20 yards out which Law curled round the defensive wall but former Rangers `keeper Alexander comfortably pushed it round the post.
A minute later Alim Ozturk`s effort from a similar range forced Gers stopper Steve Simonsen into an identical save at the other end.
Hearts slowly began to make their extra man count as they dominated possession and Morgaro Gomis was inches wide with a bending shot from 25 yards although Simonsen looked to have it covered.
The Jambos almost had the opener just before the break but Simonsen made a sensational save to tip Brad McKay`s wonderfully guided header on to the bar.
Heart made the breakthrough in the 56th with a thunderbolt from Holt. Paterson`s cross was acrobatically cut out by Lee McCulloch but it took an unfortunate deflection off teammate McGregor into the path of Holt who hit an unstoppable strike beyond Simonsen.
Rangers immediately responded and Alexander made a tremendous stop to keep out a vicious volley from Law before McLeod fired the rebound off the post.
A clumsy challenge from Black on Walker earned Hearts an 88th minute penalty which the Jambo forward duly converted to make sure of the points for the home side.