Hibs 1, Rangers 1: Florian Kamberi goal secures point as hosts battle back
Florian Kamberi celebrated his 24th birthday with his 13th goal of the season as Hibs strengthened their grip on a top-six finish as they battled back for a third successive draw against Rangers.
They found themselves battered from pillar to post for the first hour with Rangers deservedly ahead through Daniel Candeias’ first-half strike.
But they grimly held on, surviving more than a few scares in and around their penalty area with goalkeeper Ofir Marciano pulling off a couple of notable saves. And for sheer grit and determination they got their reward 14 minutes from time when Marc McNulty’s clever run earned him the time and space to square the ball for Kamberi to claim what had looked, for long spells, an unlikely equaliser.
However, with the game deep into added-on time Darren McGregor was sent off. The big defender was shown a yellow card in only the seventh minute for thrusting a hand into the face of Alfredo Morelos and earned a second when he felled substitute Jermain Defoe.
The enforced absence of Vykintas Slivka through suspension forced Heckingbottom into just one change, Stevie Mallan stepping into central midfield alongside Mark Milligan with Daryl Horgan and Stephane Omeonga on the flanks.
Darren McGregor put himself under almost immediate pressure with that early foul on Morelos, sending him to the deck as the Colombian’s team-mates berated referee Steven McLean, looking for a red card.
McLean decided a yellow would suffice but it left McGregor treading a tightrope for the remaining 83 minutes against the Ladbroke’s Premiership’s leading scorer.
Rangers’ last visit to Easter Road ended in a no-scoring draw but it was, had claimed Hibs Lewis Stevenson, the best performance of a visiting team this season, one which had left the Ibrox side wondering how they’d left without all three points given they’d enjoyed 27 pots at goal that evening.
Steven Gerrard’s players looked intent on making amends, Scott Arfield denied as his shot was diverted behind for a corner by Milligan before a slack moment by Paul Hanlon gave 28-goal Morelos an opening, one which Hibs goalkeeper Ofir Marciano prevented him taking as he spread himself to save. And Marciano again kept his side level, the Israeli internationalist getting down superbly to thrust a strong left hand on Ryan Kent’s low shot which was destined for the far corner of his net.
It was clear from those opening 25 minutes or so it was going to be a hard shift for Hibs as they struggled to contend with their visitors’ movement, Rangers’ sitting midfielders Ryan Jack and Glen Kamara giving their team-mates licence to roam forward at will.
All the heroics as far as Hibs were concerned were coming from those at the back, Kamara’s effort blocked as green shirts threw themselves in front of him as was Arfield’s effort on the rebound by Milligan.
It was clear Hibs were going to have to make the most of any openings that might come their way but Kamberi fluffed his lines when Horgan’s cutback came in his direction, a costly moment as Rangers raced to the other end of the pitch. Hanlon did well to stretch a leg to cut out Candeias’ shot but the ball broke back to the Rangers man who wasted no time in curling a superb effort high beyond Marciano.
Heckingbottom had appealed to Hibs fans to behave following the bottle-throwing incident which had marred last weekend’s Scottish Cup clash with Celtic but, unfortunately, there was another unsavoury moment which left the Capital club again embarrassed.
A supporter vaulted the advertising hoardings in front of the East Stand to confront Rangers skipper James Tavernier as the half-time whistle sounded.
The intruder kicked the ball away from Tavernier before squaring up to him. Tavernier then appeared to shove him before police grabbed and bundled him away. At the same time, at least one seat appeared to be hurled from the South Stand occupied by some 3900 Rangers supporters.
Having been under the cosh throughout, Hibs should have equalised 12 minutes into the second half, McNulty spinning Connor Goldson before delivering a measured ball into the path of Horgan.
But his shot was too close to Allan McGregor allowing the Rangers goalkeeper to stop it with his left heel before recovering to smother McNulty’s follow-up at his near post.
Heckingbottom’s options to try to change things were, as he had stated in his matchday programme, severely hampered by injuries, his bench occupied in the main by inexperienced youngsters, no doubt leaving him to cast an envious glance at the away dug-out where the likes of Defoe, Steven Davis, Nikola Katic and Lassana Coulibaly were all sitting.
Nevertheless, as long as there was just one goal in it Hibs had hope, Rangers keeper McGregor taking no chances as he pushed Mallan’s dipping shot round the post.
And Hibs finally got their reward for sticking at it, Mallan feeding McNulty, who had the time and space to square the ball and leave Kamberi with a simple tap-in at the back post.
Suddenly it was Hibs, much improved in the second half, who had their tails up, McGregor again called into action to as he beat away a powerful McNulty shot before he couldn’t hold a Kamberi effort only for Mallan’s follow-up to be deflected over.