Rangers 1, Hibs 1: Darren McGregor earns Hibees point at Ibrox
Darren McGregor's first goal in 20 months earned Hibs a point for the second time in a week against Rangers as they stretched their unbeaten run to six matches.
Alfredo Morelos looked to have steered the Ibrox club to victory, his first-half strike lifting his tally for the season to 20.
However, while they were forced to defend and had goalkeeper Adam Bogdan to thank for a string of superb saves, Hibs kept themselves in the match and will feel they deserved the draw, McGregor rising to power a header beyond Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor with only three minutes left.
Having recently castigated Florian Kamberi and Jamie Maclaren for their poor work-rate, Neil Lennon handed the pair the chance to redeem themselves as he reinstated the strikeforce which had plundered 17 goals between them in the second half of last season.
They were only two of five changes made by the Easter Road head coach from the side which had drawn 1-1 with Livingston at the weekend, Mark Milligan, Ryan Porteous – who had ended that match with his left knee heavily strapped – and Lewis Allan dropping out altogether.
Oli Shaw and Sean Mackie were listed among the substitutes as Paul Hanlon, limited by injury to just two appearances since September, made a surprise return on the left of a back three.
Rangers tried to exploit the width on the flanks offered by that set-up through Daniel Candeias and Glenn Middleton without much success in the opening phases, the pace of Martin Boyle creating the first half-chance as Emerson Hyndman dived to meet his low cross only to send his header wide.
Lennon had expressed his relief that Morelos appeared to have left his shooting boots behind when Rangers visited Easter Road seven days earlier, enjoying an astonishing 27 shots at goal without scoring.
But, having notched a couple against St Johnstone at the weekend, the Colombian striker took his tally to 20 for the season although his opener enjoyed a touch of luck, McGregor’s clearance arriving at Candeias, who found his team-mate unmarked, giving him the space and time to slot the ball low and hard past Bogdan.
Hibs, though, responded, Maclaren laying the ball off for Boyle who saw his shot blocked by the right boot of Allan McGregor, who then rose to push away an acrobatic overhead kick from Kamberi, who appeared to have heeded his head coach’s words with his early effort.
In a season which has been dogged by injury after injury, the Capital side were dealt another blow as Lewis Stevenson crumpled to the turf in the final minute of the first half, the immediate signal that he couldn’t continue resulting in him being replaced by 20-year-old Sean Mackie for only his fourth first-team appearance.
Rangers had dominated possession in the first half and yet that Morelos goal was their only strike on target, a statistic which suggested they were far from out of the game but it took Hanlon, rising with Connor Goldson to meet a Middleton corner to prevent it being put beyond them.
Ibrox had erupted as news of Sam Cosgrove’s equaliser against Celtic filtered through, the home fans well aware that they would be going into the final game of 2019 – Saturday’s Old Firm match – top of the table. That febrile atmosphere, however, had subsided thanks to their bitterest rivals’ late, late show to win 4-3 at Pittodrie, possibly reflected in the fact this game had begun to drift until Middleton burst into Hibs penalty area, thwarted only by a challenge from McGregor which brought grateful handshakes from his team-mates.
Hibs were beginning to find the ball coming back to them time and again, forced to defend desperately for a short spell, as Rangers perked up, Bogdan keeping them in it as he pushed Ryan Jack’s piledriver over.
Other than two quick-fire saves from Boyle and Kamberi, Rangers goalkeeper McGregor had been largely untroubled and there was no way that was going to change with a curling effort from Daryl Horgan which missed the target by a long, long way.
Even so, the feeling persisted that Lennon’s players couldn’t be written off, the introduction of club captain David Gray for his first match in virtually three months seeing Boyle pushed through the middle alongside Kamberi at the expense of Maclaren.
Again, though, they had Bogdan to thank for keeping it that way, the on-loan Liverpool keeper beating down Middleton’s powerful effort.
And just how important that stop proved to be was underlined four minutes from time when McGregor rose to nod Mackie’s cross past his namesake Allan and into the top right-hand corner of his net.
Rangers (4-3-3): A McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson (Katic 61), Worrall, Halliday; Jack, Coulibaly (Rossiter 83), McCrorie; Candeias, Morelos, Middleton (Lafferty 83). Unused subs: Foderingham, Wallace, Flanagan, Dallas.
Hibs (3-5-2): Bogdan; Ambrose, D McGregor, Hanlon; Boyle, Slivka, Mallan, Hyndman (Horgan 65), Stevenson (Mackie 44); Kamberi, Maclaren (Gray 70). Unused subs: Dabrowski, Whittaker, Shaw, Gullan.
Referee: Andrew Dallas