HIBS secured three points against a depleted Rangers, but added to the win was the psychological wealth of this result as a David Zitelli goal during a buoyant opening half proved Hibs could handle the Ibrox team.
The game ended with surges of Rangers attacks washing towards Nick Colgan’s goal but if Dick Advocaat was honest, his team lacked a predator’s touch in the box. Rangers in attack looked ragged with Advocaat trying five strikers in all, including substitutes, one of whom, Andrei Kanchelskis, being red-carded.
The match, though, hung on a 58th-minute incident when Kanchelskis certainly appeared to be caught by Gary Smith’s lunge as he was about to exploit a clear scoring opportunity but, more than that, through a forest of players, the referee, Kenny Clark, looked unsighted. Clark, though, made straight for the Rangers striker and booked him, an act which caused Advocaat to leap on to the pitch.
But Hibs were brave and Franck Sauzee was simply cussed in his defiance. After only ten minutes he looked tired but slowly restored himself to ply this game with his wares. He also inflicted a few gouging hacks, some of which went punished by Clark, others of which rescued Hibs in critical moments.
The match proved ferociously difficult to referee. The pace of the game, the constant collision of players, not to mention the repeated advances on the touchline by both Advocaat and Alex McLeish, meant Clark often looked as though he was trying to quell a minor riot.
Hibs showed conviction and plenty of aggression. After a misleading opening quarter when Hibs had solid control, Rangers began to assert themselves, but not to the point of riling their hosts.
The most piercing intrusions of the opening half careered towards Rangers’ goal and, aghast at this, Advocaat replaced Sergio Porrini and Allan Johnston with Kanchelskis and Kenny Miller at half-time. Hibs assaulted Rangers with passion and, just when they appeared to be wilting momentarily, they snatched their lead.
John O’Neil played the pass into the path of Zitelli, whose run through the old inside-right channel appeared to go unchecked. The Frenchman seemed at one stage to be over-running the ball before his stretched right leg clipped his shot beyond Mark Brown.
The game, though, hinged on the critical Kanchelskis incident after 58 minutes. He drifted clear of everyone in the Hibs defence before only Colgan stood before him and the net. Kanchelskis lingered too long over the shot but Smith’s leg did seem to catch him.
Twenty minutes later, Kanchelskis was sent off. Having been booked for his alleged dive, he then put a late tackle into Ulrik Laursen. The winger trudged from the pitch with a strange air of detachment.