Hibee History: Alex Miller's masterplan pays off in style at Ibrox
The first point to be made about this apparently surprising result was that it turned out to be a tactical triumph for Alex Miller's Hibs.
The Edinburgh team have, in fact, enjoyed an edge over Rangers all season and their 3-4-3 not only held Scotland’s strikeforce in check but also succeeded in curbing the effectiveness of Rangers’ flank players, Gary Stevens and Mark Walters.
Miller acknowledged that his pre-match planning was designed to take into account Rangers’ strengths and a scheme was hatched in training last week to make life uncomfortable for the league leaders.
Hibs’ plan consisted of three central defenders policing Maurice Johnston and Ally McCoist, two full-back pushing on to the midfield and John Collins playing more or less as an orthodox left winger.
The policy also required the Hibs players to make good use of the possession which came their way – a feat they duly achieved in spite of a gale force wind and blizzard conditions during the second half of the match.
All Hibs’ careful planning, of course, would have counted for very little had McCoist buried a first-minute header rather than crashing the ball against the bar. The outcome of the match probably turned on that very first attack, for Hibs were able to regroup and they grew in confidence the longer the game went without a goal.
Hibs’ reward for this victory was both tangible and psychological. The club leapt to places to fifth in the Premier Division and a place in Europe no longer seems such an outside bet.
In addition, the club’s remarkable haul of five points from a possible eight from the league favourites should stand them in good stead for future campaigns. “The players now know they can come to Ibrox and win,” noted Miller.
Hibs’ best result of the season was achieved after Collins had exposed a square Rangers defence to give Keith Houchen the opportunity to score a 60th-minute goal.
There was never much doubt thereafter about the outcome, though McCoist did squander the simplest opening of the game seven minutes later when he took the ball around Andy Goram before lifting a shot high over the open goal from seven yards.
What was both depressing and worrying from Rangers’ point of view during the last half hour of the game was the chronic inability of their players to lift their game. Apart from the odd isolated instance, Goram was only called upon to make the most perfunctory saves as Rangers found it impossible to escape the strait-jacket Hibs had placed them in.
This was partly due to a lack of inspiration and leadership – Graeme Souness made the point afterwards that such a half-hearted approach could yet lose them the title - and partly to an absence of alternatives that might have changed the course of the game.
With Ian Durrant having suffered a setback in training last week which seems likely to delay his return to the first team until the new season, and with Derek Ferguson another long-term injury victim, Rangers are short of new blood on the creative side of play.
The club’s first home defeat since the opening game of the season would not normally be sufficient cause to set alarm bells ringing, but Saturday’s defeat was the culmination of a six-match period in which Rangers have struggled to score goals, dropped out of the Scottish Cup, and failed to win five consecutive Premier Division games.
Rangers: Rangers: Woods, Stevens, Munro, Butcher, Gough, Steven, Brown, Spackman, Walters, McCoist, Johnston. Sub: I Ferguson
Hibernian: Goram, Kane, Sneddon, Miller, Cooper, Hunter, Wright, Hamilton, Houchen, Collins, Mitchell. Sub used: McGinlay
Referee: M McGinley