Hibs 1, Rangers 2: Nightmare five minutes cost home side
Hibs slipped six points off the pace in the race for second place in the Ladbrokes Premiership table as they paid the price for a nightmare five minutes at the end of the first half of a pulsating clash with Rangers.
Ahead through a Lewis Stevenson goal – his first Premiership strike in four years and only his eighth in 384 appearances for the Easter Road outfit – Neil Lennon’s players looked comfortably in control despite that narrow lead.
However, in front of another 20,000-plus crowd, the game turned on its head as the interval approached.
Josh Windass fired a low shot beyond Ofir Marciano and the Hibs goalkeeper looked less than clever two minutes into added-on time at the end of that first period as Alfredo Morelos twisted and turned past Paul Hanlon to fire the ball between the stopper and his near post.
Hibs had chances to double their lead before then, Hanlon and Martin Boyle presented with decent opportunities both of which were saved by Rangers goalkeeper Wes Foderingham.
As on Sunday against the other half of the Old Firm, Hibs produced a storming second half, substitute Brandon Barker hitting either post with shots which had Foderingham beaten before the Edinburgh side were denied a blatant penalty as Rangers defender David Bates handled Efe Ambrose’s cross.
Steven Whittaker, Marvin Bartley and Barker, who were all forced off due to niggling injuries during Sunday’s clash with Celtic, were all deemed only fit enough to take a seat on the Hibs bench, their places going to Darren McGregor, Simon Murray and Oli Shaw.
It was a first start for Shaw, the teenage striker having again added to his growing reputation with a second first-team goal against Celtic, his strike completing a stunning fightback which earned the Capital side a point.
Hibs boss Lennon went with an ambitious, attack-minded formation with Anthony Stokes operating behind a front two of Murray and Shaw as Hibs sought a repeat of their victory over Rangers at Ibrox earlier in the season.
A huge banner of club skipper David Gray celebrating an even more famous win against the Glasgow side was unfurled as the teams emerged from the tunnel, a reminder of that Scottish Cup victory which to this day is a source of needle between the sides.
Lennon’s bold approach paid almost instant dividends with a rare goal from Stevenson. Operating on the left of a midfield four, the club’s longest-serving player was on hand as Murray got in behind Bruno Alves before cutting it back for his team-mate to hit it right-footed, his shot taking a deflection off the Portuguese defender as he desperately lunged in to try to block, the ball beating goalkeeper Foderingham as it ended up in the bottom corner of his net.
Rangers were dealt a early blow when former Hibs striker Kenny Miller pulled up, the apparent victim of a hamstring problem which led to him being stretchered off as Daniel Candeias took his place.
The visitors, however, should have made their greater possession tell when Declan John’s corner left Marciano stranded, the Hibs goalkeeper no doubt breathing a sigh of relief as Morelos, free at the back post, sent his header wide.
Having said that, Hibs twice had chances to double their advantage in the space of a couple of minutes, Stokes’ pass seeing Hanlon abandon his defensive duties to get in behind James Tavernier only for Foderingham to beat away his shot.
And then Murray’s ball was missed by John leaving Boyle a run-in on Foderingham but his low shot from an angle came back off the goalkeeper’s legs, Rangers again looking rather ragged at the back.
Rangers youngster Ross McCrorie was treading a thin line when, having been booked earlier for a pull on John McGinn, he went through the back of the Hibs midfielder, Stokes’ free-kick finding the head of Hanlon, who couldn’t direct the ball on target.
But just as Hibs were probably thinking of enjoying their half-time cuppa, Rangers levelled things, former Hearts player Jason Holt feeding Windass, who drilled a low shot across the previously untroubled Marciano and into the far corner of his net.
Worse was to come for Lennon’s players, Morelos making up for that earlier miss as he left Hanlon twisting in the wind before driving a powerful between Marciano and his near post, the Israeli internationalist obviously culpable as he dived in the opposite direction.
It had been a horrible five minutes for the Capital outfit, who would no doubt have spent those 15 minutes in their dressing-room wondering just how they’d found themselves trailing although, given the evidence of the weekend, the game was far from beyond them.
Indeed, they should have been back on level terms five minutes into the second half, Dylan McGeouch feeding Boyle, who drilled in a low cross which Murray somehow contrived to miss with the goal at his mercy.
And Hibs should have been made to pay for that moment as Morelos once more scorned the chance to add a third for Rangers, sending his header down into the turf rather than the net after Marciano had been caught under Tavernier’s cross.
The home side almost took advantage, Barker, who had replaced Shaw, only inches away from his first Hibs goals as he delivered a curling shot which beat Foderingham but came crashing back off the base of his far post.
As predicted, it was becoming a bit tetchy, Lennon spoken to by referee Kevin Clancy as he expressed his exasperation at what he saw as yet another soft foul given against his side before the official came rushing in to calm things down after Jamie Barjonas had felled McGeouch.
The game, though, had opened up and Barker again came desperately close to scoring, his shot cracking back off Foderingham’s right-hand post this time, the Rangers goalkeeper recovering to smother Stokes’ attempt from the rebound.
Barker had offered Hibs a different dimension with his pace on the left to complement that of Boyle on the opposite flank and the on-loan Manchester City winger was left frustrated as his inviting cross evaded both Murray and Hanlon as it sped across goal.
Hibs were undoubtedly worrying Graeme Murty’s side, a fact recognised by the Rangers interim manager as he sent on Bates in place of midfielder Barjonas to shore up his backline.
But Hibs were denied what appeared to be a clear penalty when Ambrose’s cross came off the hand of Bates, referee Clancy not adding to his popularity among the home fans by waving away their appeals.
And, although they pounded away at Rangers for the remainder of the game, they were unable to find an equaliser – as they had at the weekend – which would have been ever so well merited.
Hibs (3-4-1-2): Marciano; Ambrose, McGregor, Hanlon; Boyle, McGeouch, McGinn, Stevenson; Stokes; S Murray (Whittaker 88), Shaw (Barker 50). Subs: Dabrowski, Bartley, Slivka, F Murray, Porteous,
Rangers (4-1-2-1-2): Foderingham; Tavernier, Alves, Wilson, John; McCrorie; Holt, Barjonas (Bates 73); Windass; Miller (Candeias 15), Morelos (Herrera 84). Subs: Hodson, Kranjcar, Pena, Kelly.
Referee: K Clancy