Hibernian 0-2 Rangers: Race for second re-ignited

Rangers' Lee McCulloch celebrates his side's win. picture: SNS

Rangers' Lee McCulloch celebrates his side's win. picture: SNS

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RANGERS gained a measure of revenge after some torrid experiences at the hands of Hibs this season with a comfortable victory that gifted Hearts the Championship title. While the issue of who wins the league is now settled, the race for second place has been re-ignited.

Scorers: Rangers - Wallace (44), Miller (80)

Can Rangers return to the position they occupied earlier in the season now that Stuart McCall’s reign has been provided with what Rangers fans were interpreting as lift-off? There were few who envisaged the under-fire Ibrox side being able to do what they did here but it was a tactical triumph for McCall. The manager was loudly hailed at the end by the travelling Rangers supporters who had despaired at the thought of a league whitewash at the hands of Hibs.

It was not completely straightforward for the visitors, even though Hibs were below the standards they have set in recent months. A contentious decision by referee Willie Collum in the run-up to Rangers’ second goal ensured there was some fury in the air at the end.

With Hibs pushing hard to get back into the game, this moment proved decisive. But it must be pointed out that the hosts had managed to create precious few scoring opportunities in the preceding 79 minutes. Man-of-the match Lee Wallace ran into defender Paul Hanlon just inside the box and the Hibs players seemed to stop in anticipation of a foul being given against the attacking side.

But Collum allowed play to continue and Kenny Miller was composed enough to score his first goal since December, ending a personal barren run stretching back 11 games. As for Rangers themselves, this victory was equally welcome since it is their first since a 2-1 win at Raith Rovers in February, the last time they were due to “kick on” after a win.

That proved to be a false dawn and was, in fact, followed by a string of five draws, the last two coming under McCall. While no-one could suggest this was easy on the eye, there was something more convincing about the way Rangers went about their business. Even Bilel Mohsni, the oft-derided centre-half, looked commanding except for one slip when letting Liam Fontaine get in behind him for a header early on.

A game played in the shadow of the potential consequences for Hearts’ title ambitions perhaps predictably failed to ignite on its own terms. Playing with three centre-halves, this result proved that Rangers got their tactics right although McCall later played this down. “Listen I am no master tactician or anything like that,” he said. “We played a shape and it worked but that was down to the players who carried out what we wanted them to do.”

In an effort to ensure Wallace had an impact on the game, McCall decided to pitch Marius Zaliukas, Lee McCulloch and Mohsni together at the back.

Darren McGregor and Wallace played at full-back but were really auxiliary midfielders and, particularly in Wallace’s case, sometimes even wingers.

Even before he opened the scoring in the 43rd minute, Wallace caused opposite man David Gray no end of problems. The Hibs full-back was replaced at half-time and looked to be struggling with injury. His team-mates also seemed somewhat less sure of themselves than of late.

Scott Allan did his best in the middle of the park but, as a pocket of creativity, he was fighting a losing battle. Martin Boyle came on to inject some more pace into the home team after replacing Franck Dja Djedje.

In the absence of the injured Jason Cummings, Alan Stubbs, the Hibs manager, partnered Dja Djedje with Dominique Malonga in attack, but this pairing did not produce the desired results. Too often they seemed to want to do the same things and, when they did seek to combine, they were not on the same wavelength.

Hibs’ best chances came near the start and fell to Fontaine, the centre-half. He was presented with two good header opportunities in the first 25 minutes, the first coming after a long, searching ball from Dylan McGeouch cleared Mohsni and looked to have fallen perfectly for the Hibs defender to help on into the net. However, his effort was sent wide of the post. Fontaine then saw a more difficult-to-execute header from Allan’s corner bound wide.

There were few clear-cut openings for the home team, who can console themselves with the thought that a first defeat of the calendar year need not be ruinous to their ambitions. Rangers were hardly rampant either, but Wallace gave them an extra dimension.

He was in the right place at the right time two minutes before half-time to convert a Nicky Clark cross that Hibs failed to clear. It said something about Rangers’ approach that McGregor, Wallace’s fellow full-back, was also in the box making a nuisance of himself.

It seemed inevitable that Wallace would be at the heart of a second Rangers goal and so it proved. However, the rampaging defender’s contribution was a contentious one after he collided with Hanlon as the Hibs defender looked set to clear. The loose ball landed at Miller’s feet and he took a touch before slamming a shot past Mark Oxley. The clearly relieved Rangers striker earned a booking by celebrating in a scrum of Rangers fans.

Whether or not the Ibrox side can put together a string of wins remains to be seen and their next assignment – at home to Cowdenbeath – is the kind that spells trouble. Nevertheless, the Rangers fans bounced as one at the end, describing themselves as “Stuart McCall’s barmy army!”

As McCall later said, it’s been a while since the players or fans have gone home with smiles on their faces. There’s also a long way to go before anyone can claim Rangers have turned the corner, but this was a start.

Hibernian: Oxley, Gray (Watson 46), Hanlon, Fontaine, Stevenson, Fyvie, Robertson (Stanton 78), McGeouch, Allan, Malonga, Dja Djedje (Boyle 69). Subs not used: Forster, Craig, Handling, Perntreou.

Rangers: Bell, Zaliukas, McCulloch, Mohsni, McGregor, Murdoch, Law, Wallace, Miller (Vuckic 84), Clark, Shiels (Black 75). Subs not used: Daly, Templeton, Hutton, Robinson, Sinnamon.

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