Rangers ended the weekend one goal behind Celtic at the top of the Scottish Premiership after a five-goal humiliation of manager-less Hearts.
Alfredo Morelos’ eighth goal in seven games and Ryan Kent’s third in three put Rangers in control by half-time. Christophe Berra’s own goal and a Greg Stewart double added to Hearts’ woes.
A third loss in four games under Austin MacPhee leaves the Tynecastle side third bottom and does little for the caretaker’s hopes of becoming manager permanently.
With Celtic having swept aside Ross County 4-1 in Dingwall earlier in the day to not only add to their points tally but their goals advantage over Rangers, the onus was on Steven Gerrard’s side to respond.
They did so with a seventh win in a row at Ibrox during which they have now scored 23 goals and conceded only two as they stretched their unbeaten run to 11 games.
Hearts have won once in nine outings since edging Aberdeen on penalties in the League Cup quarter-final in September.
Tale of contrasting fortunes continues
The Edinburgh side’s last win at Ibrox came in August 2014, a result that set them on their way to beating Rangers to the Championship title and promotion.
But, since both clubs returned to the top flight, Rangers have been on a steady ascendency and Hearts in a decline that has led to two managers being dismissed within the last two years.
The Glasgow side are unbeaten in nine meetings at Ibrox between them – winning seven – since Hearts’ win in the second tier and the Tynecastle club are in danger of being dragged into a dogfight at the bottom to avoid returning there.
MacPhee had urged his players to rekindle the kind of spirit that produced a stunning 4-0 win that ended Celtic’s long unbeaten domestic run under Brendan Rodgers two years ago.
Gerrard also warned his side it would be “very silly” to underestimate Hearts, but within 11 minutes at Ibrox, Morelos’ opener suggested that normal service would be resumed.
The Colombia striker scored twice with his head in Thursday’s 2-2 draw with Feyenoord and he was at it again, rising to meet a Borna Barisic cross for his 25th goal of the season – four of those against Hearts.
If Hearts had hopes to taking advantage of any tiredness Rangers might have felt from their Europa League trip to Rotterdam, they were virtually extinguished when Kent swept in the second from eight yards shortly before half-time.
Rangers’ strength in depth was highlighted by the role in that move played by midfielders Scott Arfield and Joe Aribo, who had come into the side in place of Ryan Jack and Sheyi Ojo.
Hearts had welcomed back Craig Halkett from long-term absence, but their bad luck with injuries had continued with fellow defenders Michael Smith and Clevid Dikamona being ruled out of this one and the new line-up at the back was exploited again by Rangers.
A James Tavernier cross was turned in by Berra – the captain’s third own goal of the season.
Gerrard could afford to withdraw Morelos, who had earlier gone down in pain from an already strapped wrist, and still finish with a flourish of two close-range finishes from substitute Stewart in the last 10 minutes.
Hearts will clutch at the straw of a front-post Uche Ikpeazu miss when they were only 1-0 down, but that was their only threat on an afternoon of least resistance that will surely hasten owner Ann Budge’s managerial decision-making.