Rangers 1-3 Hibs: First-half Boyle hat-trick blows Gers away as Hibees reach Premier Sports Cup final
A first-half hat-trick from Martin Boyle booked Hibs’ place in next month’s Premier Sports Cup final as the Hibees blew Rangers away at Hampden.
Pre-match narratives had centred around two main subjects – the Covid-19 outbreak, subsequent 25-day lay-off, and how rusty the Easter Road players might be, and the departure of Steven Gerrard and appointment of former Rangers player Giovanni van Bronckhorst as his Ibrox successor.
The Dutchman was watching on from the stand and will surely have been given plenty to think about from his team’s display.
There was also the small matter of Rangers having not beaten Hibs at the national stadium since the 1970s, while that historic Scottish Cup final victory in May 2016 was fresh in the minds of many inside the ground.
With just nine minutes on the clock, Boyle set about writing a story of his own. Before this semi-final the livewire had never scored against Rangers but surely not even the effervescent winger could have imagined breaking his duck so early, and in such a big game on such a big stage.
And of course Ryan Porteous played a part in the goal, nudging Leon Balogun out of the road and getting just enough on Joe Newell’s corner to divert the ball into the path of Boyle, the 28-year-old smashing the ball into the roof of the net and sending the Hibs fans wild.
This wasn’t in the script. Neither was Kevin Nisbet’s perfectly-weighted through-ball ten minutes later, which Boyle latched onto and, after turning James Tavernier inside out, sent into the far corner to put Hibs two goals up.
Jack Ross’ record in big games has been questioned by supporters but the normally stoic 45-year-old allowed himself a roar of delight following Boyle’s second.
When referee Kevin Clancy pointed to the spot after Steven Davis barged Boyle over in the area, there was no doubt who would be doing the honours from 12 yards.
Allan McGregor dived to his right, the ball went high, and the Australian wheeled away in delight. Disbelief on the Rangers bench and etched on the faces of those in blue shirts on the pitch and in the stands.
Ross allowed himself a more muted celebration, turning to the crowd behind him with a clenched fist. He was less happy seconds later when Porteous could only scuff a clearance into the path of Scott Arfield, who bent an effort into the bottom corner to reduce the deficit.
The half-time whistle signalled an end to a crazy 45 minutes. Hibs, expected by so many to be sluggish and heavy-legged were sharp and slick.
Pre-match favourites Rangers looked shell-shocked by comparison. Balogun especially was having a torrid time dealing with Nisbet and Boyle and his defensive partner Connor Goldson wasn’t faring much better.
More than a few people would have been recalling the bonkers 5-5 draw these two sides played out at the end of the 2017/18 season. Hibs had been three goals to the good in that game too, but surely there wouldn’t be a repeat of that…?
Van Bronckhorst’s face gave little away during the first half but he did allow himself a small raise of the eyebrow after the first goal. Whether or not he might have been tempted to nip down to the Light Blues’ dressing room at the interval for a quick word, we’ll never know.
The second half began as the first had ended, with Rangers attacking Hibs from all angles. When Ryan Kent got no joy down the left side, Joe Aribo probed on the right. Still nothing. Green shirts threw themselves at loose balls and in the way of goal-bound shots. There was little sign of the team that struggled defensively in their last three league games.
Rangers continued to pour forwards in the search of further goals while Hibs began to show signs of their three-week lay-off.
Josh Doig was the first casualty for Hibs, making way for Lewis Stevenson on the hour mark after picking up a knock. Interim Rangers boss David McCallum made three changes in ten minutes in a bid to spark his side into life with Fashion Sakala, Ianis Hagi, and Ryan Jack coming on for Kent, Arfield, and Aribo but although the Zambian forward worked hard to stretch the Hibs defence, he was unable to succeed where Kent hadn’t.
Hibs were forced into another change ten minutes from time when Porteous was unable to continue and Darren McGregor entered the fray in his place, while Christian Doidge made his long awaited return to the pitch after a lengthy spell on the sidelines for the final few minutes to loud cheers from the green sections of Hampden with Nisbet making way after putting in a shift up top.
While the first period had been breathless and end-to-end, it was virtually one-way traffic in the second. McCallum introduced Scott Wright and Calvin Bassey as a final throw of the dice but the substitutes fared little better than those they had replaced.
Macey had one heart-in-mouth moment that would have set up a grandstand finish as he nearly scooped a Darren McGregor backpass into his own net, the post coming to the Englishman’s rescue before he gratefully booted the ball up the park.
Hibs barely threatened throughout the second 45 but they didn’t need to. The damage had been done in the first half, and in devastating fashion.