The recalled Kari Arnason was on target as Aberdeen moved into second place in the Ladbrokes Premiership with a 2-0 victory at Motherwell.
Arnason and Kenny McLean struck within three minutes of each other midway through the second half as the Dons used their game in hand on Rangers to move three points ahead of the Ibrox men.
The result also sealed Hearts’ place in the top six as Motherwell’s slim hopes of overtaking the Gorgie side before the split depended on a victory.
The opener came in the 65th minute as Arnason rose highest to meet McLean’s corner and head home from eight yards.
McLean quickly doubled the Dons’ lead following a throw-in on the right flank. The Scotland midfielder swapped passes with Greg Stewart and curled into the far corner from 16 yards.
Defender Arnason had come in for winger Gary Mackay-Steven in a bid to deal with Motherwell’s aerial threat but the hosts were forced to change their tactics after Nadir Ciftci and Charles Dunne failed fitness tests. Left-back Stephen Hendrie replaced centre-back Dunne as they switched to a 4-4-2.
The visitors had the better of territory and possession but there was little to show for it in a disappointing first half, although there was a flurry of activity around the midway point, most of it centring around Hendrie.
Stewart skipped round the full-back before cutting inside and firing over before McLean had a shot diverted wide after latching on to the former West Ham player’s headed clearance. Hendrie soon had a better moment when he blocked McLean’s back-post header.
Aberdeen goalkeeper Joe Lewis was only brought into action once before the break, to stop Ryan Bowman’s header skidding across the face of goal.
Stephen Robinson brought on Gael Bigirimana for Allan Campbell at half-time and Motherwell looked to have been stirred into action by their manager’s team talk.
Tom Aldred headed just wide from Chris Cadden’s corner and Lewis spilled Curtis Main’s strike but gathered at the second attempt.
The hosts remained on top but had a scare just after the hour mark when casual play from Cedric Kipre allowed Stevie May a shooting chance, but Aldred blocked inside the box and referee Don Robertson waved away handball claims.
Aberdeen soon took a firm grip on proceedings with their quickfire double and they never let go as they comfortably saw out the victory to boost their confidence ahead of the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final meeting between the teams on April 14.