Report as Abdallah Sima's first-half strike secures a 1-0 win for Rangers against Hearts; the Ibrox side remain eight points behind Celtic in the title race
Wednesday 6 December 2023 23:57, UK
Abdallah Sima's first-half strike was enough to earn Rangers victory at Hearts to maintain Philippe Clement's impressive start as manager.
After scoring a double against St Mirren on Sunday, the on-loan Brighton striker raced on to James Tavernier's pass on 34 minutes and fired beyond goalkeeper Zander Clark.
The Ibrox side spurned several opportunities at Tynecastle Park as goalkeeper Jack Butland again proved his value with several fine saves to deny the hosts.
The result means Rangers stay eight points behind leaders Celtic with a game in hand, while Hearts are in third.
Hearts were on a four-game winning run in the league as they faced Rangers for a third time since Clement took charge in October.
In the 11th minute Hearts skipper Lawrence Shankland blasted a shot over the bar on the break after Yilmaz had carelessly lost possession leaving the Rangers rearguard exposed.
Rangers midfielder Tom Lawrence limped off in the 17th minute to be replaced by Jose Cifuentes.
There was a familiar name on the Hearts bench as former Scotland number one Craig Gordon returned after almost a year having recovered from breaking his leg against Dundee United on Christmas Eve.
Craig Halkett and Barrie McKay also returned from lengthy spells out while Nathaniel Atkinson and Kyosuke Tagawa were reinstated to the starting line-up as Yutaro Oda and Liam Boyce dropped out altogether.
For Rangers left-back Ridvan Yilmaz took over from Borna Barisic, missing altogether, with Brazilian striker Danilo in for Cyriel Dessers.
In the 25th minute, as Hearts drove their way into the Rangers box, Shankland's shot from 12 yards was parried by keeper Jack Butland with Alex Cochrane's shot from the rebound blocked by the body of James Tavernier.
Danilo had the ball in the Hearts net from eight yards just before the half-hour mark but was offside.
However, when Tavernier broke out of defence and split the Jambos backline with a well-weighted pass, Sima sped clear and when Clark rushed out from his goal, he slipped the ball past him for his 12th goal of the season.
Minutes later, Todd Cantwell lobbed the ball just over the bar from close range and then Clark stuck his foot out to deny Danilo from just a few yards.
Atkinson and Jorge Grant were replaced by Oda and Kenneth Vargas at the start of the second half but it was Rangers who reasserted.
In the 51st minute Tavernier's curling free-kick into the Hearts box was dropped by Clark but Danilo's shot was blocked by Tagawa and the home side escaped again, as they did minutes later when Yilmaz's angled-drive flew wide of the far post.
Clark parried a long-distance drive from John Lundstram and Yilmaz fired the rebound high over the bar, before Kemar Roofe and Dujon Sterling took over from Danilo and Yilmaz.
Just before that, Butland made a fantastic save from Vargas' powerful left-footed drive, which raised Jambo hopes.
In the 79th minute, Clark made a fine stop with his foot after Sima had been set up by Roofe but the offside flag was up.
Rangers had to do some stout defending in the closing stages as Hearts went all out but they kept the door closed to keep on Celtic's coattails.
Hearts head coach Steven Naismith on Sky Sports:
"The result is disappointing, it was a tight game and both teams had chances.
"We had the first real chance then we concede a poor goal.
"Rangers then had the better chances but as the game went on when we moved the ball well across the pitch and got through them we then created opportunities in the final third.
"There are a few areas we can work on and make sure it [Rangers' goal] can't happen, we didn't cover ourselves on glory with that but there were other moments in the game when we defended well.
"I'm comfortable with what we create and how we're getting through games."
Rangers manager Philippe Clement on Sky Sports:
"Mentally and our work rate it was a really good performance.
"It's a tough place to come and as long as you don't make the second goal they stay in the game with long balls and long throw-ins but we managed to defend well against that.
"We need to finish off the game and make the second goal and we had five really big chances. It should have been at least three goals, then you have a different end to the game.
"We were in control but one bad ball you can concede a goal. We need to be more clinical in our finishing, but we also showed a lot of good things.
"In moments we lost too many balls and we need to be less sloppy.
"We played good football and we scored a good goal, we didn't have much time to train because we only had one session to prepare.
"He [Sima] is growing and getting better and better and players are understanding how to use his strength. He's a very important player for us."
Hearts' next Scottish Premiership fixture is away to Aberdeen on Saturday while Rangers host Dundee.
Both games kick-off at 3pm.