Hearts finally got their hands on the Scottish Championship trophy this afternoon as Hibs’ run of seven consecutive wins and 15 games unbeaten came to an end at the hands of Rangers, a side they had convincingly beaten in their last three encounters.
Former Hearts defender Lee Wallace got the first for Rangers, scooping the ball high into the net via a deflection a minute before the interval and ex-Hibs striker Kenny Miller ensured a first victory for interim Ibrox boss Stuart McCall with a second ten minutes from time although the home side were left raging in the belief defender Paul Hanlon had been taken out by Wallace.
The result means neither club can catch runaway leaders Hearts, who will celebrate their title at Tynecastle against Queen of the South on Saturday while Hibs will face Raith Rovers intent on getting their tilt at second place back on track following what was a disappointing display given recent performances.
The knock picked up by Hibs’ top scorer Jason Cummings against Cowdenbeath last week ruled the youngster out, his place up front going to Dominique Malonga in a partnership with Franck Dja Djedje.
In defence, Hanlon returned with Keith Watson dropping to the bench.
Clear-cut chances were something of a rarity for either side in the opening half-hour, Liam Fontaine going closest for Hibs as he stole in behind Bilel Mohsni to meet Dylan McGeouch’s inviting cross from the left flank. The big defender got plenty of power on his header but couldn’t steer it on target, the ball flying wide of Cammy Bell’s right-hand post.
Fontaine saw another header from Scott Allan’s corner go over while Nicky Law’s free-kick from 20 yards gave the home side a moment of consternation but, like Fontaine, the Rangers midfielder couldn’t find the target.
Hibs were unable to exert any concerted pressure on a Rangers defence which had deployed three centrebacks in Marius Zaliukas, Lee McCulloch and Mohnsi, the trio giving Malonga and Dja Djedje little change for their efforts.
But, just as it looked as if the first half was to end goalless, Rangers struck. Mohsni spotted the opportunity to play an early free-kick, picking out Nicky Clark all alone on the left touchline. He had time to play the ball into the danger area where Kenny Miller got a touch but Lewis Stevenson appeared to have rescued the day for Hibs with a superb last-ditch challenge on Darren McGregor.
Unfortunately for Hibs, the ball fell for Wallace seven yards out and he found the net.
Alan Stubbs’ players had been far from their fluent best in those 45 minutes and the home fans would no doubt have been hoping the head coach’s half-time talk would have the desired effect.
There was little sign of that having had any impact immediately after the restart although Scott Allan’s driven corner found Hanlon with the time to stoop and meet it with his head only to send the ball wide.
Referee Willie Collum’s persistence in taking no further action than a wagging finger to a string of niggly fouls from Rangers designed to break up play whenever Hibs were in possession had the home fans irked, the most blatant being a shirt pull by Mohsni on Dja Djedje to prevent the striker breaking free.
However, the five strung across the middle of the park by Stuart McCall did more to frustrate the Edinburgh side, who were unable to find any cracks to exploit.
Clark passed up a glorious opportunity to put the game beyond Hibs in the 64th minute when Miller’s pass created an opening but a moment’s hesitation allowed Hanlon to make a goal-saving block.
Seconds later, Dja Djedje similarly scorned a superb chance, the striker dispossessing Moshni but, with the a clear sight of goal, he elected to try to find Malonga inside him and the opening disappeared.
Collum, who had booked Hibs skipper David Gray for a first-half foul on Wallace, was eventually forced to do likewise for Zaliukas, the former Hearts defender guilty of a blatant foul on substitute Martin Boyle as he attempted to use his pace to break down the line.
Ex-Hibs star Miller put the game beyond his old team in controversial style ten minutes from the end. Hanlon appeared to be taken out of the game by a scything challenge from Wallace but Collum allowed play to go on, leaving the Rangers frontman with the easy task of sliding the ball home.
Hibs: Oxley, Gray (Watson 46), Hanlon, Fontaine, Stevenson, Fyvie, Robertson (Stanton 78), McGeouch, S Allan, Dja Djedje (Boyle 68), Malonga. Substitutes not used: Perntreou, Forster, Craig, Handling.
Rangers: Bell, McGregor, Zaliukas, McCulloch, Mohsni, Wallace, Murdoch, Law, Shiels (Black 75), Law, Miller (Vuckic 84). Substitutes not used: Robinson, Hutton, Daly, Templeton, Sinnamon.
Referee: Willie Collum.