Rangers 0, Hibs 2: Stubbs’ men into second spot

Lewis Stevenson scores to seal the points for Hibs. Pic: Lisa Ferguson
Lewis Stevenson scores to seal the points for Hibs. Pic: Lisa Ferguson
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Hibs swept into second place in the Championship table as they defeated Rangers for the third time in succession for the first time in ten years.

Former Easter Road striker Kenny Miller twice went close to putting the Ibrox club ahead in the opening minutes but midfielder Scott Robertson’s fifth goal of the season stunned Kenny McDowall’s players.

Hibs, though, were forced to soak up some sustained pressure as Rangers produced a much-improved performance from that which saw them crash out of the Scottish Cup at the hands of Raith Rovers.

But, just as they were beginning to believe an equaliser would be theirs, Lewis Stevenson secured all three points for Alan Stubbs’ side, the club’s longest-serving player claiming only his fourth goal on his 251st appearance.

At one point, there were more Rangers fans outside Ibrox than inside as yet another vociferous protest against the current regime in charge of the Glasgow club took place, four police officers on horses guarding the entrance to the Govan stadium.

As they did so, the travelling support, limited in number after a bid to obtain a further allocation of tickets failed, were left to create what atmosphere they could in the minutes before kick-off, chanting “we only won 4-0” as Stubbs’ players warmed up in front of them.

And also watching on from the main stand on what turned out to be a memorable night for Hibs were Judy Murray, mother of Wimbledon champion Andy, and her father Roy Erskine, a former player with the Capital club.

Hearts boss Robbie Neilson and his assistant Stevie Crawford were also there, the Tynecastle duo no doubt departing just as happy as the away fans having seen the one-time title favourites stumble yet again.

Stubbs had attempted to play down expectation that Hibs, having won their last two matches against their troubled opponents, would do so for a third time but it was evident that’s exactly what that pocket of almost 1000 supporters from Edinburgh was anticipating.

The Easter Road head coach tweaked the side which defeated Arbroath in the Scottish Cup, Dominique Malonga earning an instant recall while Stubbs opted for a 3-5-2 formation which saw Keith Watson start on the right of a back three with Dylan McGeouch restored in midfield at the expense of skipper Liam Craig, who took a seat on the bench alongside Fraser Fyvie and Franck Dja Djedje, the pair having played their part against the Red Lichties six days ago.

Rangers interim boss McDowall doesn’t have his troubles to seek, goalkeeper Steve Simonsen and captain Lee McCulloch suspended to go along with a rack of injuries including all but Haris Vuckic of the influx of loanees from Newcastle.

It was a crisis which saw him make six changes, recalling two players that even the home supporters had probably forgotten were still at the club, ex-Hearts stopper Marius Zaliukas, his last match in a light blue shirt away back on October 4, and Sebastian Faure, who had last featured in mid-November.

The crowd had grown considerably – although it still looked some way short of the official attendance of 29,769 – by the time referee Steven McLean got proceedings underway, the calls of “sack the board” fading as Gers striker Miller twice went close to opening the scoring.

He was on hand when Mark Oxley couldn’t hold Vuckic’s powerful shot to curl a netbound shot beyond the goalkeeper only to see Liam Fontaine appear from nowhere to head the ball off his own line.

Oxley then got his fingertips to another dipping effort from Miller before Kris Boyd sent a glancing header wide from the resulting corner.

Robertson, though, silenced the home fans and sent his own wild, the midfielder handily placed to stab the ball home after Rangers goalkeeper Lee Robinson had got down to block Jason Cummings’ low shot following a superb Scott Allan pass.

Rangers, however, lost Miller to injury after 31 minutes, his place going to Nicky Clark only seconds after Malonga, having himself been the victim of a hefty challenge by Nicky Law, went in late on Robinson to earn himself a word of warning from referee Steven McLean.

The Rangers support were screaming for a penalty when Clark went down as he latched onto a neat pass from Kris Boyd but the player himself knew he had simply lost his footing as he turned away from Paul Hanlon.

Stubbs, however, was forced to look on pensively from the touchline as Rangers began to boss possession although Hibs remained compact, forcing their opponents to play in front of them, a long-range shot from Vuckic which was gathered at his left-hand post by Oxley the Slovenian’s only option.

Hibs hadn’t been anywhere as near free-flowing as they were in that impressive 4-0 victory over Rangers at Easter Road and they continued to find themselves under pressure early in the second half with corners from Vuckic carrying a particular threat, Faure sending a looping header from yet another towards the corner of Oxley’s net, the goalkeeper just managing to get his fingertips to direct it over the bar.

Vuckic was proving to be Rangers’ greatest threat and it took a superb last-ditch challenge from Hanlon to prevent him testing Oxley from close-range as the clocks at either end of the ground ticked down all too slowly as far as Hibs were concerned.

Rangers were handed a gilt-edged chance when referee McLean adjudged a misplaced clearance from Fontaine a pass-back as Oxley gathered the ball but, from 15 yards out Boyd could do no more than blast the free-kick into the defensive wall.

Hibs’ front two had been forced to live on scarce rations, Stubbs turning to the pace of Martin Boyle in an effort to stretch the game and get his side up the pitch rather than becoming encamped on the edge of their own area.

Stubbs players have shown time and again their ability to hit on the break and they stunned Rangers by doubling their lead with just nine minutes left. Stevenson, playing his 251st game for the club, timed his run perfectly to meet substitute Fraser Fyvie’s pass on the volley and, although he didn’t make perfect contact, his shot carried enough weight to beat Robinson.

Rangers: Robinson, Faure, Zaliukas, McGregor, Wallace, Law, Murdoch, Hutton, Vuckic (Daly 78), Boyd (Shiels 78), Miller (Clark 31). Unused subs: Aird, Black, Kelly, Halkett.

Hibs: Oxley, Watson, Hanlon, Fontaine, Gray, Robertson, S Allan (Fyvie 77), McGeouch, Stevenson, Malonga, Cummings (Boyle 63). Unused subs: Forster, Craig, Stanton, Dja Djedje, Cerny.

Referee: Steven McLean.