THIS wasn’t how Steven Gerrard and his players wanted to spend this particular Sunday afternoon. As consolation prizes go, it wasn’t a bad one, though.

If all had gone to plan, Rangers would have been going for their first silverware of Gerrard’s reign at Hampden. Instead, they had to settle for going top of the Premiership.

Gerrard had urged his players to make the most of the chance to move above Celtic and it was an opportunity they grabbed with both hands. Despite falling behind to a Gareth McAuley own goal, efforts from Connor Goldson and Alfredo Morelos won it for the Light Blues.

A red card to Scott Arfield caused Rangers some angst but the spirit and character that has become the hallmark of Gerrard’s side shone through once again. It was an afternoon where Gerrard would rightly be proud of his players.

In the last two seasons, Rangers have been well off the pace and been under pressure at this stage. Today, they have all of their Premiership rivals behind them.

Nobody at Ibrox will be getting carried away but it is another important milestone for Gerrard’s players. On a day where they had to win, they did just that.

Given the effort that Rangers had to put in against Villarreal in midweek, it was no surprise to see Gerrard make four changes to his starting line-up for the battle at Tynecastle.

He once again switched his partnership at the back as McAuley returned in place of Joe Worrall, while Andy Halliday took over from Jon Flanagan at left-back. There were alterations in midfield and attack as well, with Ovie Ejaria and Eros Grezda both back in the team.

Gerrard would have been well aware that his side would have to match their showing from midweek, in terms of endeavour and work ethic, if they were to take anything here but it took some time for Rangers to really get started.

Hearts burst out of the traps in typical style and were quickly in control of proceedings. Rangers were second to every ball and couldn’t get a footing in the game.

The action was frantic yet scrappy and it was only the heroics of Allan McGregor that ensured it remained goalless as he twice denied Hearts with stunning saves.

The keeper has his own personal highlights reel this term as he has shone since returning to Ibrox and the stops from Steven MacLean and Arnaud Djoum were right up there.

The first came after just nine minutes as Peter Haring flicked the ball on at the front post and MacLean nodded a header away to McGregor’s right. The 36-year-old was equal to it, though, as he palmed it away just in time.

His next block was arguably even better. Hearts had Rangers pinned back for significant spells and when Michael Smith fired the ball in from the left, Djoum diverted a header towards goal.

Once again, McGregor was on hand as he tipped the effort over his bar but there was a sense that the goal was coming for Levein’s side.

When McGregor was finally beaten, it was by his own man. Rangers once again failed to clear their lines as Hearts kept the pressure on and the ball was shifted to Marcus Godinho on the right.

His low cross evaded everyone in maroon but McAuley got the last touch as he converted into his own net. It was unfortunate for Rangers, but deserved for Hearts.

Boss Gerrard would have been concerned at this stage as his side struggled to assert themselves on proceedings. It was all Hearts, but that soon changed.

A Morelos shot that was blocked and a Grezda strike that was saved by Zdenek Zlamal gave the travelling support a bit of belief. Their best chance fell to Ejaria but Djoum was on hand to clear off the line after the midfielder nodded a header towards goal.

Seconds later, Rangers had equalised. A James Tavernier corner was whipped into a dangerous area and Hearts couldn’t clear as the ball fell to Goldson at the back post. The defender forced it home to bring Gerrard’s side level at just the right time.

Soon, they were ahead. Tavernier had fired a free-kick from a central area into the side netting but when he lined up one on the right flank he got another assist to his credit.

Morelos had strayed slightly into an offside position, much to Craig Levein’s fury, but there was no doubting the quality of the finish as the Colombian clipped the ball across target and into the far corner.

It was a moment Morelos certainly enjoyed as he lapped it up in front of the home fans but it was the away crowd that were celebrating. Rangers had turned it around, but there was still plenty to do to clinch victory.

The Light Blues were able to pick up where they left off after the interval and there was more purpose about their play now than there had been at the start of the game.

Grezda saw a shot saved by Zlamal, while another was blocked by Godinho as Rangers went in search of a much-needed third goal to take the sting out of Hearts.

Tynecastle was beginning to bubble as the challenges flew in and tensions rose on the park and off it. Soon, they boiled over.

A Daniel Candeias shot was parried away by Zlamal and the follow-up from Morelos was spilled. As the keeper gathered the ball, Arfield slid in with excessive force on the line.

As both sets of players pushed and shoved in the goal, referee Bobby Madden flashed a deserved straight red card to the midfielder as Rangers were once again reduced to ten men.

It is a challenge that Gerrard’s side have become accustomed to this term and the 38-year-old would have had faith that his players could once again see it through.

There was still plenty of attacking endeavour from the Gers but Hearts became increasingly desperate and frustrated as the clock ticked on. Time was very much against them.

After five minutes of injury time, it was up. The final whistle was followed by a huge roar from Gerrard in the technical area before the away support followed their manager’s lead.

This was only three points, but there was no doubting the importance of them, or how much it meant to everyone in blue.

Top spot has been secured. Now the challenge is to remain there for Rangers.