It was a victory which was possibly cheered as much in Gorgie as it was in Leith, a result which today has left both sides of the Capital delighted.
Hearts had nursed a hope that their arch-rivals might do them a turn at Ibrox, the league leaders hoping their six-point advantage at the top of the Championship table would still stand.
Hibs, though, had no thoughts of giving Robbie Neilson’s side a helping hand, they were intent only on looking after themselves. And they did so in style, pulling off a stunning result as two goals from teenager Jason Cummings sandwiched a David Gray header.
The victory, which totally belied Hibs’ lowly pre-match position of second-bottom in the Championship, was achieved with a vibrant team performance in which each and every one of the players used did exactly what was asked of them.
Such had been the start Alan Stubbs’ players had made to the season, Rangers defender Bilel Mohsni had written off their chances of being involved in the fight for the title prior to the match, the hot-headed Tunisian’s opinion, at least as far as this match was concerned backed up by the bookies who made the Ibrox club odds-on favourites, with Hibs rank outsiders at 13/2.
Few could argue with such a big price given the Edinburgh club’s poor start to the season, with just two wins in their previous six matches leaving them trailing Hearts by 13 points.
However, Hibs proved their doubters wrong in emphatic fashion, clocking up their first win in Govan since former manager Colin Calderwood got his reign off to a flier in November 2010, with goals from Liam Miller, John Rankin and Francis Dickoh securing a 3-0 triumph. Much has changed at both Easter Road and Ibrox since. The Govan club have been subject of well-documented and ongoing financial problems, while, at Hibs, only Paul Hanlon and Lewis Stevenson, unused substitutes from that victory almost four years ago, have survived the constant upheaval in the east end of the Capital.
And, of course, no-one would have dared predict back then than these two clubs, along with Hearts, would be playing their football in the second tier of Scottish football.
Nevertheless, that’s the current state of affairs with the priority being to get back into the Premiership as quickly as possible. Prior to last night’s match, Rangers had seemingly shaken off their own indifferent start to the season while Hibs were hoping their League Cup win against Ross County would act as a springboard to challenge for promotion.
But even Stubbs and his players could hardly have imagined just what an effect that victory in Dingwall was to have as three goals in an incredible 13 first-half minutes had the home crowd reacting in a way those in white shirts and green shorts probably believed was reserved only for Easter Road on those numerous bad days which have scarred recent seasons.
Certainly Hibs had their moments of worry, Jordon Forster having to come up with a superb block to deny Kris Boyd and former Hibs midfielder Dean Shiels firing in a low free-kick which goalkeeper Mark Oxley did well to push aside.
Oxley, the unlikely scorer of the winner against Livingston, turned provider this time, a huge clearance leaving Cummings to outmuscle Arnold Peralta before slipping the ball under goalkeeper Steve Simonsen. The teenager’s shot carried just enough weight to roll over the line despite the desperate attempts of the Honduran to clear. The Hibs fans in the corner of the ground between the Govan and Broomloan Stands were in dreamland and they must have been shaking themselves in disbelief six minutes later when Gray got goal-side of Lee Wallace to meet Lewis Stevenson’s cross, sending a powerful header down into the turf which bounced up and into the roof of the net. And it just kept getting better and better. Dominique Malonga and Stevenson combined to set up Cummings, who slid the ball across the body of Simonsen and into the far corner of the net.
The noisy travelling support suddenly found themselves drowned out by howls of derision from the home stands towards Ally McCoist and his players. Having established such a commanding lead, Hibs now had to avoid giving Rangers any initiative on the restart. They accomplished that task reasonably well for ten minutes, only to see Law throw the Glasgow side a lifeline, the former Motherwell midfielder calmly side-footing the ball high into the net from 20 yards from Forster’s headed clearance.
Stubbs had called for a strong referee beforehand and he would have been disappointed that Calum Murray and his assistant Stuart Stevenson both missed Mohsni appearing to throw an arm into the face of Fontaine in the melee which followed that goal.
Murray did have his back turned but Stevenson seemed to be looking directly at the pair and chose not to intervene.
Hibs had been shaken but they did not capitulate. Although Rangers were enjoying the lion’s share of possession, Forster sent a diving header wide from Liam Craig’s free-kick before Simonsen had to get down sharply to clutch substitute Callum Booth’s shot. By now, McCoist had used all three of his subs, with Jon Daly partnering Boyd up-front and David Templeton thrown on to supply the ammunition.
Hibs’ back three – Stubbs opted for the 3-5-2 formation which had served him so well in Dingwall last week – were, defending superbly, both in the air and on the ground, while Scott Robertson, Craig and Allan provided an effective shield. In attack, Cummings and Malonga were always seeking to hit on the break. The aerial bombardment from Rangers was entirely predictable but time and again the heads of Forster, Hanlon and Liam Fontaine were there to avert danger – at least until they were hit by the next wave. Nervy times for Stubbs’ players but Hibs should probably have had a penalty when Gers skipper Lee McCulloch’s arm halted Malonga on the bye-line before Alex Harris almost snatched a fourth goal four minutes from time, an enterprising run ending with a shot which was too close to Simonsen.
Hibs held firm, leaving Stubbs with a grin as wide as Princes Street is long, the head coach saying: “I am delighted for the players – they are the ones who deserve all the credit. I’m not going to lie, to find yourself in a 3-0 lead, you are wondering what is going on.
“We looked a real threat on the counter, really positive. We worked on areas where we felt we could hurt Rangers and it’s nice that when you do that you get results from it.”