Hibs 0, Rangers 0: Hosts battle to claim point in action-packed draw
Hibs produced a battling, backs-to-the-wall performance to clock up a third successive clean sheet and claim a hard-earned point against Rangers which continued their recent revival.
The Easter Road side had hoped back-to-back wins over both sides of the Old Firm would carry them back into the top half of the Ladbrokes Premiership table but ended happy with the draw after the first goalless match between the sides in a decade.
It was far from the free-flowing display Neil Lennon’s players had produced four days ago in that thoroughly-merited 2-0 win over champions Celtic, decidedly second best as they were forced on to the back foot for long spells. But they dug in and delivered a determined, resilient show in which, admittedly, they rode their luck from time to time, no more so than when substitute Mark Milligan used an arm to block a shot from Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos.
A morning fitness test had given Vykintas Slivka the green light to play following the ankle injury which had forced him from the pitch at half-time on Sunday. That meant Neil Lennon was able to field the same team as Hibs sought successive victories over both sides of the Old Firm – but that continuity lasted only 14 minutes as goalkeeper Ofir Marciano stayed on the ground after gathering an innocuous cross from Rangers skipper James Tavernier.
This was only the Israeli internationalist’s third appearance of the season following surgery in the summer and he cut a disconsolate figure as he trudged off to be replaced by Adam Bogdan, the victim, it seemed, of a calf injury.
Not surprisingly, Lennon’s players had a spring in their step following not only Sunday’s result but their performance, the only flickers of possible danger in the opening 20 minutes or so self-inflicted thanks to wayward passes from Stevie Mallan and Daryl Horgan which, fortunately, didn’t lead to any damage.
They weren’t alone, Tavernier was the architect of Hibs’ first fleeting glimpse of goal, his ball inside going straight to the feet of Florian Kamberi, who had no hesitation in pulling the trigger although his low shot crept wide.
Morelos, back after suspension, was an obvious threat, the Colombian striker finding acres of space to collect Borna Barisic’s pass to cut past Ryan Porteous only to be denied his 18th goal of the season as his shot clipped the outside of the post.
Morelos had another chance to add to his already impressive tally, a mistake by Efe Ambrose gifting him possession, but Bogdan coming to his defender’s rescue as Rangers began to turn up the heat. Lewis Stevenson was then almost flat on his face at the back post as he nodded Scott Arfield’s header off his own line.
But Hibs broke, Kamberi killing a raking ball from defence into the path of Horgan as Steven Gerrard’s side were caught short-handed at the back, but Ryan Jack managed to do just enough to ensure his effort was rather tame.
Ambrose made amends for that earlier slip on the stroke of half-time, getting the slightest of touches to deflect Eros Grezda’s over and so ensure the opening 45 minutes ended goalless.
An indication that the game had swung Rangers’ way was reflected by the fact Lennon replaced Horgan with Milligan after the interval, the Australia skipper taking up station in front of his side’s back four in a bid to make them less open than they had been.
It was Bogdan, though, who had to stand tall to beat away Tavernier’s effort after he had found space inside Hibs’ penalty area, the Hungarian then looking on closely as the Ibrox man’s free-kick inched just wide of his right-hand post.
Hibs’ front two hadn’t enjoyed much in the way of possession but Kamberi’s flick almost put Oli Shaw in, substitute Ross McCrorie doing just enough to put the youngster off, his shot flying wide.
Kamberi and Shaw, in quick succession, were unable to make anything of Slivka’s cross before Morelos drilled a low shot across Bogdan and then, at full stretch, was unable to direct Tavernier’s cross on target.
Rangers were continuing to ramp up the pressure, Ambrose superbly blocking a shot from Daniel Candeias before another slip by the stand-in Hibs skipper saw Morelos drive in another angled effort which evaded the back post.
Hibs were becoming increasingly desperate as they fought to keep Rangers out and had a lucky escape 15 minutes from time. Morelos left Porteous for dead for once, supplying Candeias who delivered what looked like the perfect ball for his unmarked team-mate deep inside the box. He looked odds on to score but somehow totally missed the ball.
Rangers then had appeals for a penalty waived away as Milligan appeared to stop Morelos’ shot with his arm.
It was that touch of good fortune Lennon and his players perhaps felt they merited for their heroics and in the end, on reflection, there would have been a fair degree of satisfaction in having taken four points so far this week with a home game against Livingston to come at the weekend.