THIS Scottish Cup clash saw Hibs secure back-to-back away victories in Govan, both by the same 3-0 margin.
Almost six months on from Ivan Sproule’s stunning hat-trick, Rangers boss Alex McLeish was still bemoaning the manner of Hibs’ initial victory over his side, but, having seen Tony Mowbray’s young team rack up a third successive win, even he had to admit that this run of results was no fluke.
On each occasion, McLeish had simply been out-thought by his counterpart, Mowbray coming up with a game plan which McLeish found impossible to fathom. Of course, ‘Mogga’ tinkered with both formation and personnel, on this occasion naming a side which most presumed would see Hibs line up in a 4-5-1 system only for a 4-4-2 to become evident with Scott Brown, having passed a late fitness test on his calf injury, switch from the right flank to the left with Steven Fletcher, while Sproule, rather than Derek Riordan, partnered Garry O’Connor in attack.
O’Connor opened the scoring against the run of play after 50 minutes with a header from close range after Sproule danced a merry jig around Marvin Andrews before crossing for O’Connor.
Roles were reversed for the second goal, O’Connor returning the favour, knocking the ball down into Sproule’s path before evading Andrews and producing an imperious finish.
Riordan was soon introduced as whispers in the Hibs end began to suggest that another 3-0 scoreline could be on the cards.
Riordan had ample opportunity to parade his vision and awareness, sweeping a superb pass into the path of fellow substitute Chris Killen who ensured there was no way back for Rangers as he netted the third goal in what was a remarkable win for a Hibs side which had been left devastated by their 4-1 derby defeat at Tynecastle just seven days earlier.
The New Zealand cap initially drew a smart stop from Ronald Waterreus before squeezing in the rebound from an unforgiving angle for his first his goal.
Hibs could then have punished Rangers on several more occasions as McLeish’s men became ragged but the platform for such an emphatic victory was built by Hibs’ much maligned defence, one which had looked so fragile at Tynecastle but was rock solid as Rangers enjoyed the majority of the first-half possession.
Kris Boyd and Peter Lovenkrands both passed up decent chances to score and goalkeeper Simon Brown kept Hibs level at half-time with a tremendous save from a Bob Malcolm drive.
Whether or not Mowbray’s players had their heads out of the clouds was to be discovered in barely 48 hours time when relegation-haunted Livingston visited Easter Road. There were three points at stake as Hibs continued their battle not only to wrestle third place back from Rangers but to once again close the gap on second-placed Hearts – they won 7-0.
In the cup quarter-final, Hibs were paired away against SPL side Falkirk where they emphatically won 5-1 before being on the end of a 4-0 drubbing from eventual winners Hearts at Hampden in the semi-final.