Novo double sends Rangers clear

Rangers 3 - Heart of Midlothian 2
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The Independent Football

Nacho Novo scored two second-half goals yesterday to beat Heart of Midlothian and take Rangers to the top of the Scottish Premier League for the first time in more than a year. Not since October last year had Rangers been above Celtic, who had earlier drawn with Dundee.

Hearts made Alex McLeish's side work hard for the win at Ibrox and took a deserved lead through Paul Hartley's penalty on 16 minutes after Jean-Alain Boumsong had hauled down Mark de Vries in the box.

Hearts remained in control, but Rangers drew level moments before the break when Jamie McAllister put through his own goal from close range in a desperate attempt to stop Fernando Ricksen reaching Peter Lovenkrands' cross.

Novo gave Rangers the lead 11 minutes after the interval. The in-form Spanish strikerlatched on to Zura Khizanishvili's pass before lifting the ball over the advancing goalkeeper Craig Gordon.

Novo then forced a save from Gordon, and Lovenkrands fired just wide, but McLeish's side were pegged back soon after, De Vries heading Hearts level again on 66 minutes. But Novo ensured Rangers collected the win they needed to go above Celtic when he headed home a lofted pass from Stephen Hughes with nine minutes remaining.

The game was the latest in a high-profile sequence for Rangers, who had previously beaten Celtic twice in 10 days, and McLeish said: "I couldn't have asked any more from my players. They were walking on empty a wee bit today considering the month they have had and the intensity of the games we have played and I detected a little bit of tiredness ... but their resilience was magnificent."

Goals: Hartley (pen 16) 0-1; McAllister og (45) 1-1; Novo (56) 2-1; De Vries (66) 2-2; Novo (81) 3-2.

Rangers: Klos; Khizanishvili, Boumsong, Andrews, Ross, Namouchi (Hughes, 75), Rae, Ricksen, Lovenkrands, Prso, Novo. Substitutes not used: G Smith, Malcolm, Mladenovic, Hutton, S Smith, Fetai.

Heart of Midlothian: Gordon; Neilson, Pressley (Berra, 45), Webster, McAllister, Wyness (Weir, 59), Hartley, Kisnorbo, Hamill, De Vries, Pereira (Stewart, 71). Substitutes not used: Moilanen, MacFarlane, Janczyk, Sloan.

Referee: D McDonald.

Booked: Rangers: Boumsong. Hearts: Hartley, Wyness, Kisnorbo.

Man of the match: Novo.

Attendance: 48,494.

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