Jonny Hayes helps Aberdeen to victory over Hearts
Jonny Hayes scored a well-deserved second-half winner as Aberdeen moved two points behind Rangers with victory at Tynecastle.
The winger converted Niall McGinn's driven cross in the 66th minute to earn a 1-0 win that saw the third-placed Dons open up a six-point lead over Hearts in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
Ian Cathro had managed his first victory in charge of Hearts in midweek but the 4-0 triumph over Kilmarnock came at the cost of a serious knee injury to Callum Paterson and they missed the Scotland right-back at both ends of the park.
Aberdeen could afford to miss a handful of chances while visiting goalkeeper Joe Lewis was only called into serious action in the latter stages.
While Liam Smith and Don Cowie came in for the injured Paterson and Prince Buaben, Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes could name the same starting line-up that recorded back-to-back wins over Motherwell and Hamilton.
The ball was in the air for much of a frantic opening 15 minutes and that was the route Aberdeen took to carve out the first chance. Mark Reynolds missed a free header from eight yards following McGinn's corner.
Most of the early play was in the Hearts half but Aberdeen defenders Shay Logan and Ash Taylor were booked for illegally halting two Hearts breaks.
Aberdeen gradually began to turn their territorial advantage into chances from open play. McGinn got space to run at Smith and crossed for Kenny McLean but Jack Hamilton made an excellent stop.
The visitors again carved out a chance down the left when Graeme Shinnie overlapped Hayes and sent in a low cross but Hamilton blocked McGinn's shot with his feet.
Shinnie came closer just before the break when his 25-yard strike hit the post and Adam Rooney could not readjust his body quickly enough to steer the rebound on target.
Hearts got closer to target man Bjorn Johnsen after the interval and Smith was not far away with a header from a corner but Aberdeen remained the likelier team. Rooney failed to make the most of two half chances and Aberdeen could not trouble Hamilton from some decent positions.
But that changed when McLean sent McGinn racing down the right wing. The Northern Ireland international fired a cross from the by-line and Hayes flew in to volley home in mid-air from six yards.
Aberdeen generally managed their lead well. Lewis made a decent stop from Jamie Walker with five minutes left after good footwork from the Hearts midfielder and Cowie headed over from close range with the last action of the match.