THIS was a Petrofac Training Cup tie but it isn’t a piece of silverware these two are fighting over, it is Scott Allan. And, while the scoreline depicted Rangers as the 6-2 victors in this season curtain raiser, the real loser was the wantaway midfielder.
Alan Stubbs left him on the bench and if it was designed as a way of reminding the powers that be just how difficult the season could be without their star man, should the new offer expected to be submitted by Rangers over the weekend prove more beguiling, it was a masterstroke.
Okay, Allan wasn’t the only one missing but he was the key absentee and it all added up to a miserable day for the punters who had done their best to make the player feel wanted.
The Hibs fans weren’t the only ones, though, and from the outset the Rangers support had chorused that he was “one of our own”. But given all the hullaballoo, the bids made and rejected and the apparent pleas of the player, the man himself didn’t even start this match. Left on the bench by his manager, Allan only joined the fray in the 53rd minute and did so to a standing ovation from all four stands. By that time Hibs were 3-1 down and already reeling.
The best of the first half had belonged to Hibs, who seemed to be living up to their pre-match promise to take it seriously. Rangers manager Mark Warburton, conversely had claimed it was merely part of the pre-season programme as far as he was concerned and his players appeared to have bought into that whole-heartedly.
With all that was going on the home support had been subdued, but they were given something to cheer in the 14th minute when Sam Stanton drove at goal from deep and unleashed a left-foot strike which beat Rangers goalkeeper Wes Foderingham.
By that stage Hibs could actually have been two up already but Jason Cummings’ third-minute effort was blocked by a last-gasp lunge just a couple of yards from goal, while Dominique Malonga picked up where he left off last season, wasting a gift-wrapped opportunity when he was picked out unmarked right in front of goal but somehow he couldn’t find the target, let alone the net, ballooning the ball over. Supplied in the box once again, soon after, he ended up on his backside, another opening gone.
So Hibs were on top and that was eventually reflected in the scoreline, but with 39 minutes gone James Tavernier cancelled out that Stanton strike, his deft free kick curling up and over the wall and into Mark Oxley’s top right-hand corner. Rangers added to that just a minute from the interval. While Hibs men were being closed down as they prepared to pull the trigger or smothered as they entered the box, Rangers striker Martyn Waghorn was given all the time and space he needed to side-foot into the net from the edge of the six-yard box and allow the visitors the luxury of a lead even they knew they didn’t merit.
The Rangers manager admitted as much at half-time when acknowledging that the standards had not been high enough and, coming out for the second half, his team addressed their tactics, utilising more of the space down the flanks and showed significant improvement.
Given how these teams are about to be pitched against each other in another Championship title race it was surprising to see just how little Hibs could dredge up in response and two minutes into the second half they were punished when Oxley made a hash of another Waghorn effort to give the Ibrox side a two-goal lead.
The Petrofac Training Cup is unlikely to have featured prominently on the pre-season list of priorities drawn up by either manager but Warburton must have been the happier manager as his side showed gumption and a hunger for goals.
Allan was thrown on to offer Hibs some spark but it wasn’t something he was capable of on a day when he just look frustrated and petulant and the game passed him by.
Cummings made it 3-2 from the penalty spot after he was fouled but it wasn’t the beginning of a comeback as Rangers added a delightful fourth. From long range Andy Halliday launched a perfectly flighted ball over Oxley’s head and in off the underside of the crossbar. That was in the 61st minute and at that stage it was evident that it could get embarrassing.
Reshuffling his pack, Warburton got his return from elder statesman Kenny Miller who weighed in with two close-range efforts in the 77th and 82nd minutes to complete the hammering.
Hibernian: Oxley, Fontaine, Hanlon, Forster (S Allan 53), Gray, Martin, Fyvie, Stanton, Stevenson, Cummings, Malonga (L Allan 24). Subs not used: Reguero, Dunsmore, Harris, Sinclair, Crane.
Rangers: Foderingham, Tavernier, Kiernan, Danny Wilson, Wallace, McKay, Halliday, Holt (Shiels 61), Templeton (Miller 62), Law, Waghorn (Clark 74). Subs not used: Thompson, Aird, McGregor, Kelly.
Referee: Willie Collum. Attendance: 11,225.