Derek Riordan and Garry O’Connor fired Hibs to victory as champions Rangers went eight games without a win for the first time in their history.
The result meant Rangers were left 11 points adrift of third-placed Hibs – the Glasgow side having come into the Sunday afternoon fixture on the back of an impressive Champions League draw away to Porto.
The visitors had been forced to rest Fernando Ricksen, who had been struggling from a muscle strain, but midweek substitute heroes Ross McCormack and Chris Burke started along with fellow youngster Alan Hutton.
Fit-again Gary Smith had replaced Chris Hogg at the heart of the Hibs defence, while Ivan Spoule came in for the injured Michael Stewart in midfield.
A minute’s applause was observed before kick-off for the late George Best who played for the Hibees between 1979 and 1980, and the great man himself would have been impressed by the performance of another Ulsterman, Ivan Sproule, who teased and tormented the Rangers defence during a pulsating opening half from the home side.
Sproule’s renowned speed immediately troubled the Rangers defence early on, with former Hibs defender Ian Murray having to head away the winger’s cross-cum-shot clear of goal.
Murray blocked another effort from Scott Brown and Gary O’Connor headed straight at goalkeeper Ronald Waterreus from 15 yards.
A great ball out of defence from Guillaume Beuzelin set up the opening goal after 18 minutes. Sproule sprinted clear of Hutton and the Northern Irishman slipped the ball wide of Waterreus and into the path of Derek Riordan to fire home at the back post from five yards.
Brahim Hemdani replaced Alex Rae after 24 minutes, moments after the veteran midfielder was booked.
Matters immediately got even worse for Rangers when Riordan found O’Connor superbly with a cross into the box and the Scotland striker neatly side-footed the ball into the corner of the net from 16 yards to put the home side 2-0 up within the half-hour.
Hibs boss Alex McLeish withdrew the ineffectual Francis Jeffers at the break, the on-loan striker replaced by Steven Thompson. Rangers pulled one back with their first shot on target, Barry Ferguson’s low drive from the edge of the box deflecting off defender Gary Caldwell and over goalkeeper Zbigniew Malkowski.
Hamed Namouchi should have equalised but blasted over from ten yards after Malkowski failed to collect a cross under pressure from defender Marvin Andrews.
A curling Riordan free kick slipped just wide and Waterreus saved superbly from Sproule as desperate Rangers were caught on the break. And their chances were killed off when Ferguson, the Rangers captain, was sent off in the dying seconds when he was given his second yellow card.
Hibs: Malkowski, Whittaker, Glass, Smith, Caldwell, Brown, Beuzelin, Sproule, Thomson, O’Connor, Riordan.