Aberdeen were beaten 2-0 by Rangers at Ibrox – a result which ends hopes of a fifth successive second-placed finish in the Premiership.
A brace of second half penalties from Gers skipper James Tavernier defeated the Dons, who ended the game with 10 men after Andy Considine was dismissed for collecting two yellow cards.
Defeat means Derek McInnes’ Reds are third, 11 points behind Steven Gerrard’s team with just three league fixtures remaining.
McInnes made two changes to the side which beat Kilmarnock 1-0 at Rugby Park eight days ago. Captain Graeme Shinnie was out with an ankle injury and Mikey Devlin dropped to the bench.
Manchester United loanee James Wilson was drafted in to start and Lewis Ferguson returned from suspension in midfield.
The home side started positively with Ryan Kent and Tavernier sending in dangerous crosses from the right in the opening 10 minutes, which found no takers in the centre.
Aberdeen’s first offering in attack came in the 13th minute when Wilson’s inswinging free-kick from the right was met by Sam Cosgrove at the back post, but from six yards the header drifted wide.
A minute later the Dons lost Connor McLennan to injury. The 19-year-old appeared to tweak his hamstring in the 11th minute, but the winger continued – although only for three minutes.
Devlin was sent on in his place which meant Max Lowe moved to the left side of midfield from left-back and Considine shifted to left-back.
On 26 minutes a period of pressure from the Gers ended with Kent sending a low left-footed shot inches wide from 25 yards.
The Govan outfit seemed encouraged by that spell of play and were keen to keep the ball and try to work it around the Reds. Three minutes after Kent’s shot Dons keeper Joe Lewis made a fabulous save to keep the game at 0-0.
Steven Davis jabbed a ball through which was dummied by Scott Arfield for Jermain Defoe, the on-loan Bournemouth striker was in but Lewis plunged to his right and beat away the fierce shot from 14 yards.
After that spell of defending Aberdeen responded at the other end in the 34th minute as Stephen Gleeson worked the ball on to Wilson on the edge of the box, the striker danced inside a couple of challenges, but his left foot strike was straight at Allan McGregor in goal.
With five minutes of the first period left the Rangers pressure continued as Defoe had a shot from just inside the area deflected wide and when the resulting corner was recycled Connor Goldson headed over Kent’s delivery from the right flank.
Moments later Tavernier was released on the right side of the box, but Lewis was out to narrow the angle and smother the strike. Then Davis had a shot charged down and on the rebound former Don Ryan Jack had an effort from 14 yards parried away by Lewis.
However, Aberdeen did manage to reach half-time with the score level, but after only three minutes of the second half they were trailing.
A corner wasn’t cleared and as Nikola Katic tried to turn at the back post under pressure from Ferguson the defender hit the deck following a tangle of legs.
Referee Don Robertson pointed to the spot and Tavernier confidently sent Lewis the wrong way from 12 yards, sending the ball into the bottom right corner.
Defoe passed up a gilt-edged chance to make it two shortly before the hour. The ball was worked out to Tavernier on the right, his cross deflected off Scott McKenna and hit Lewis at the near post.
The rebound fell for Defoe, but the England international hooked a volley well over from four yards.
On 64 minutes Rangers had the ball in the net after a swift counter-attack. Tavernier chipped it beyond Lewis, but was offside after taking Defoe’s through ball.
After this Aberdeen had a good spell, but creating clear chances was difficult. When the Dons got further forward the final pass, or cross from a wide area, wasn’t quite there.
With 10 minutes to the Dons’ hopes of taking something from the game were over when Rangers were awarded a second penalty.
Considine was adjudged to have elbowed Katic at a corner from Davis, again Robertson pointed to the spot and the whistler then produced a second yellow card for Considine- his first came near the end of the first half for a lunge on Jack – and then a red.
For the second time Tavernier scored from 12 yards, this time putting the spot-kick into the bottom left corner to seal the points for the Gers.
Rangers: Allan McGregor, James Tavernier, Connor Goldson, Nikola Katic, Jon Flanagan, Steven Davis (Ross McCrorie 84), Ryan Jack, Glen Kamara, Scott Arfield, Jermain Defoe (Lee Wallace 87), Ryan Kent (Daniel Candeias 84).
Subs not used: Wes Foderingham, Joe Worrall, Andy Halliday, Glenn Middleton.
Aberdeen: Joe Lewis, Dom Ball, Andy Considine, Scott McKenna, Max Lowe, Stephen Gleeson (Dean Campbell 61), Lewis Ferguson, Connor McLennan (Mikey Devlin 14), Stevie May, James Wilson, Sam Cosgrove (Greg Stewart 76).
Subs not used: Tomas Cerny, Greg Halford, Miko Virtanen, Ethan Ross.