Jason Cummings’ 21st goal of the season wasn’t enough to prevent Hibs being consigned to another season of Championship football, the two goal cushion Rangers had built up in the first leg of the Premiership play-off semi-final proving too great a hurdle.
However, despite the bitter disappointment Alan Stubbs’ players were cheered from the pitch by their fans who recognised they’d given their all.
Hibs had thrown everything they had at the Govan outfit, pinning them back inside their own half for large spells of the game with Cammy Bell the far busier of the two goalkeepers.
But as at Ibrox a few days ago, Hibs lacked that vital cutting edge although Bell was forced into a number of decent saves, particularly during a whirlwind opening 20 minutes from the home team.
Hibs finally made the breakthrough, but not until the third minute of added on time, Cummings curling a delightful ball beyond Bell.
Both sides made one change to their line-up from Wednesday’s first leg, Scott Robertson making way for Dylan McGeouch in Hibs’ ranks while club captain Lee McCulloch returned for Rangers at the expense of Nicky Clark.
While Hibs retained the formation they had adopted at Ibrox, Rangers switched to a 3-5-2 with Haris Vuckic playing off lone striker Kenny Miller, the system that brought them a 2-0 win on their last visit to Easter Road.
A minute’s silence during which a lone piper played a lament marked the 100th anniversary of the Gretna train disaster in which 216 members of the 1/7th (Leith) Battalion of The Royal Scots died preceded the match.
Hibs knew exactly what they had to do to pull back the two goal advantage Rangers had earned in midweek and they set about the task with relish, pinning Stuart McCall’s side back deep inside their own half for much of the opening 15 minutes.
Referee John Beaton rightly waved away penalty claims as the ball reared up and struck the hand of ex-Hibs midfielder Dean Shiels before Bell dived left and then right to save shots from Fraser Fyvie and then Jason Cummings.
And Bell again twice came to the rescue of the Glasgow club, getting his fingertips to Cummings’ low shot and doing exactly the same seconds later to take David Gray’s cross off the head of the Hibs striker as he stooped to head home.
Cummings dragged another shot wide before Rangers got their first effort on target some 24 minutes into the game, Miller toe-poking a weak shot straight at Mark Oxley before then diving to meet Richard Foster’s cross at the front post only to head wide.
Referee Beaton was kept busy, pulling Rangers up time and again for a string of niggly fouls obviously designed to break up the play, ex-Hearts defender Marius Zaliukas picking up a warning as the main culprit.
Allan presented Dominique Malonga with a glorious opportunity to put Hibs ahead seven minutes from the interval but the striker’s shot was woeful, carrying insufficient power to trouble Bell.
Oxley had been something of a spectator but his reflexes were razor-sharp as he got down to his right to touch away a dipping left foot shot from Vuckic which was threatening to drop into the corner of his net.
Rangers were left with only 45 more minutes to see out with Hibs having failed to get any reward from their first half possession but one goal could change the entire complexion of the tie and Bell was forced to fingertip away an Allan cross before Malonga got on the end of Liam Craig’s cross only to send a volley wide.
Stubbs decided he couldn’t wait any longer, making his first change in the 53rd minute, striker Farid El Alagui replacing Craig to, hopefully, add to the home side’s firepower.
Beaton appeared determined not to produce a card despite Rangers continuing to break up play with illegal challenges.
Malonga was only inches away from the opening goal with a powerful right foot drive which had Bell beaten, the ball zipping past his left hand post.
Beaton finally did show the yellow card, but not to a Rangers player, El Alagui falling foul of the official for a barge on McCulloch, the Hibs striker quickly followed into the book by Zaliukas for yet another foul, this time on Cummings and then Vuckic for diving and Lee Wallace for time-wasting.
Stubbs threw on yet another striker in Franck Dja Djedje with 20 minutes remaining as time began to quickly run out on Hibs promotion hopes.
Hibs continued to force their way forward but were unable to find that all-important goal and so will find themselves in the Championship again next season.
Hibs: Oxley, Gray, Hanlon, Fontaine, Stevenson (Dja Djedje 70), McGeouch, Fyvie, Craig (El Alagui 53), S Allan, Cummings, Malonga.
Substitutes not used: Cerny, Robertson, Stanton, Handling, Dunsmore.
Rangers: Bell, McGregor, McCulloch, Zaliukas, Foster, Shiels (Black 82), Murdoch, Law, Wallace, Vuckic (Clark 74), Miller (mohsni 87).
Substitutes not used: Simonsen, Smith, Crawford, Boyd.
Referee: John Beaton.