Hibs 0-1 Rangers: Late penalty agony for Hibs after battling display against Gers
The substitute, on for Alfredo Morelos, picked up the ball after Ryan Kent had been brought down by Ryan Porteous in the area and drilled the spot-kick into the bottom right-hand corner, sending Matt Macey the wrong way and sparking wild celebrations behind the goal as the Ibrox side sneaked the win after an attritional match in the Capital.
The stage was set for another enthralling encounter between these two teams. The Premier Sports Cup semi-final meeting served to heighten the rivalry on and off the pitch.
Stadium announcer Barrie Wilkins dropped in a few pre-match references to Porteous playing with a smile on his face while wearing number ten was “hat-trick hero” Martin Boyle.
Cynics in the home end may well have suggested that this amount of glee, goading even, before a ball had been kicked was destined to come back and bite them. And so it did.
Moments before kick-off the Hibs fans in the East Stand held up a display suggesting that the future was “green and white” – a clear dig at the similar banner unfurled by Light Blues fans at the national stadium.
But those expecting a repeat of the four-goal first half at Hampden last month would have been disappointed, however. Chances were at a premium and the only real fireworks in the opening period were in the away end ahead of kick-off as a number of flares were set off to welcome the Glasgow team onto the pitch.
Morelos and Calvin Bassey both went close with headers but contrived to send their efforts wide of Macey’s right-hand post. At the other end Martin Boyle stung Allan McGregor’s palms with a low effort in the opening stages.
There would be no first-half treble for the Australian internationalist this time around although his quick feet and eye for goal marked him out as a constant threat.
The second half was just 120 seconds old before the first chance of note. Josh Campbell dispossessed Connor Goldson on the right before whipping in a cross that just missed the leaping Kevin Nisbet but fell nicely for Boyle, who hit his effort well enough but could only find a Rangers body rather than the back of the net.
The visitors reacted immediately and Kent wasn’t far away with a vicious effort from outside the area that had Macey scrambling but it flashed just wide. The chanting from the away end grew louder.
Five minutes later Joe Newell ghosted into the penalty area and although his low cross was a smart option Goldson got just enough on it to divert it away from goal.
The two teams continued to snarl at each other but it was Hibs who looked the more dangerous. Boyle’s pace was keeping Borna Barisic on his toes on the right while Josh Doig was keeping James Tavernier occupied on the opposite flank.
The midfield was cohesive and combative. Rangers, by comparison, were making more unforced errors than usual. Much of the pre-match talk had centre around the Gers' revenge mission after their Hampen humbling but they looked nervy at times, the pressure of getting a result perhaps playing heavy on their minds.
Not that there weren’t signs of the team that won the league last season, however. Some of the counter-attacks and passing sequences had Hibs sweating but there often seemed to be a wayward pass, or a green-clad leg in the right place at the right time.
Porteous took a sore one when he threw himself in front of a goalbound effort from Kent, and the winger then brought a smart save out of Macey with another fierce effort from distance.
Substitute Scott Arfield sent an awkward shot from range straight at the former Arsenal ‘keeper, who could only parry it with a defender mopping up as Kemar Roofe lurked waiting for the loose ball.
At the other end Chris Cadden, who rattled the crossbar at McDiarmid Park, wasn’t far away with a low shot with 20 minutes remaining.
But somehow, as seem to be the norm now in games between these two teams, Porteous was thrust into the limelight.
Kent swooped and sashayed his way into the box after a quick break, the centre-back approached, the winger hit the deck and referee John Beaton, after some thought, pointed to the spot.
Porteous certainly didn’t look happy, and neither did several of his team-mates. Not that it mattered.
Roofe stepped up and sent Macey the wrong way, the travelling fans went wild, and with fewer than five minutes of normal time remaining, it looked like the game was only going to go one way.
Hibs threw everyone forward in a last-ditch attempt to salvage the point their performance deserved but losing the goal at the stage they did knocked some of trhe stuffing out of them, and understandably so.
The likes of Campbell, Doyle-Hayes, and Newell played out of their skins in the middle of the park while Porteous – until the penalty incident – came through the game with flying colours.
It served as a cruel ending to a game in which Hibs were the better team for large parts of the 90 minutes. The hosts’ performance had everything but a goal. They may not have come as close as they did against St Johnstone but there were positive signs for Jack Ross in his team’s showing against the reigning champions.
Hibs now face a visit from Motherwell on Saturday before travelling to Livingston. If they can play with the same intensity and verve then six points from six shouldn't be unattainable.