Hibs sparkle in rout of Rangers

Liam Craig roars 'with joy in front of the East Stand 'after Hibs went 2-0 ahead. Below, David Gray's stunning 'strike puts the home side 1-0 up before Scott Robertson 'made it 3-0, while Rangers' Kris Boyd can't hide his woe

Liam Craig roars 'with joy in front of the East Stand 'after Hibs went 2-0 ahead. Below, David Gray's stunning 'strike puts the home side 1-0 up before Scott Robertson 'made it 3-0, while Rangers' Kris Boyd can't hide his woe

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A Champagne performance by Hibs, but some fizzy mineral water was the closest boss Alan Stubbs would allow his players by way of celebration.

As the Easter Road supporters headed out for a night on the tiles having seen Stubbs’ side take Rangers apart in a manner way beyond their wildest dreams, the head coach ordered their heroes to stay home.

Within minutes of the final whistle on an epic 90 minutes when all sorts of records were smashed, Stubbs’ eyes were already firmly on Saturday’s derby with Hearts when, should Hibs crack the unbeaten run which has taken their arch-rivals 15 points clear in the race for the Championship title, he might, just might, let them raise a glass to the New Year.

Having seen the past 12 months as their annus horribilis, there is, at least, now hope that 2015 will bring plenty of reasons to be cheerful. While automatic promotion back to the top flight which they left in such ignominious fashion looks beyond them, the play-off system which dumped Hibs only a few months ago could well be their salvation.

While interim Rangers manager Kenny McDowall all but conceded in the wake of this emphatic defeat that path may well provide the Ibrox club with their best bet of ending their climb from the nether regions of Scottish football, such a prospect, given Hibs have now beaten the Glasgow side with some ease both home and away, should carry few fears for Stubbs and his players should it come to that.

“They have really got our number at the moment,” conceded former Hibs striker Kenny Miller who added: “That’s three times we’ve played them this year and I thought they were outstanding again.”

As self-belief and confidence has coursed through the veins of Stubbs’ players, so it has been drained from those at a club in turmoil both on and off the pitch, Miller admitting that the focus for now has simply to be rediscovering that winning habit, rather than talk of promotion.

However, as inept as Rangers were throughout these 90 minutes, no-one should ignore the fact that they were made to look so by Hibs, who were superior to their opponents in every department displaying a vibrancy, hunger, desire, commitment and no small degree of skill as they left Miller and co bemused and bewildered.

Few could have imagined as Hibs struggled through those early days of the season that they would be ending a year to forget on such a high, testament to the iron will of Stubbs and his backroom staff who stuck rigidly to their beliefs, adamant it would pay off.

There were those who doubted it, but having witnessed a performance which the former Celtic and Everton defender described as near to perfection as he has seen from his side, Stubbs insisted there is even better to come.

He said: “We were clever, intelligent, as close to a complete performance as I have seen in my time as a manager or coach. It wasn’t perfect, but it was close to perfection.

“I think as a manager you are always striving for that perfect performance. And if that wasn’t perfect, I would like to see one that was. When you are winning games it doesn’t matter who you play. It breeds confidence.

“The players are very confident at this moment because you don’t perform like that when you are not at the top of your game. I think we can get better. We will look to strengthen in the window but I have said all along, some might have laughed, that we are as good as anyone on our day.

“I have said we will get better as the season goes on. The players are starting to understand what we want from them. They are getting to know each other more and I’ve got to say, we’ve played well at times this season and not got the results.”

Previous performances against Rangers at Ibrox this season had no doubt left Stubbs’ players with little to fear but, you would imagine, even they would have struggled to envisage just how dominant they would be.

As a contest, the game was as well as over after just 12 minutes, David Gray and Jason Cummings, the scorers in Govan that night in September, paving the way to victory again, the right back’s stunning shot which whistled past the ear of goalkeeper Steve Simonsen and the striker’s close-range finish silencing the away support behind that end.

Stubbs said: “We started as well as I thought they were going to start the game. It’s always nice when you are on top and you manage to get an early goal, but when you get two goals up in 12 minutes it doesn’t get any better.”

With Scott Allan, Scott Robertson and Liam Craig putting a strangehold on the middle of the park, so-much-so that McDowall took the wise precaution of removing Ian Black from the fray, the former Hearts player having already been booked for a typically snide challenge from behind on Allan, it was clear there was going to be no way back for Rangers.

They did rally, momentarily, at the beginning of the second half when Kris Boyd came on to throw his weight about to no great effect, but Hibs kept the foot on their opponents’ throat, Allan’s delightful reverse pass leaving Darren McGregor on the seat of his pants as Robertson slid a third past Simonsen before the midfielder scooped the ball into the path of birthday boy Craig who swept a right-footed volley into the same corner of the net.

It was the first time since 2006 Hibs had beaten Rangers at home; the first time they’d scored four against the Gers in 50 years and the biggest defeat the Ibrox club had suffered in Leith since a 5-0 drubbing in 1912. Oh, and it was the Light Blues’ heaviest defeat since losing 6-2 in 2000 when a certain Alan Stubbs was at the heart of Celtic’s defence.

“This was one of those days where everything just comes together,” insisted Stubbs, “I just hope the players get the credit they deserve for the result and it is not about what is going on off the field at Rangers.”

But, according to man-of-the-match Allan it might have been even better. He said: “Every one of the boys was brilliant. Things felt really comfortable at the back as well and I think if we’d wanted to we could have got a few more goals.”