IF Kenny McDowall was handed the job he didn’t want when he was asked to take over from his friend, Ally McCoist, then this was a hugely unwelcome Christmas present for the rookie Rangers manager – the Ibrox club’s biggest margin of defeat since Celtic beat them 6-2 and a certain Alan Stubbs was mopping up at the back for Celtic.
Scorers: Hibs - Gray 8; Cummings 11; Robertson 63; Craig 70
Encouraged by recent Hibernian progress but not getting carried away, Stubbs, now head coach at Easter Road, wrote in his programme notes that he was still looking for “the perfect performance over 90 minutes”. He was rewarded with four excellent goals from a side in which many at last came delivered performances close to matching that of the routinely excellent Scott Allan.
It was a terrific result for the Hibs fans and for the statisticians. The first time Hibs had banged four past Rangers since 1964. Their biggest win over the Gers since way back in 1912. Afterwards McDowall looked shaken by the experience. “Where did it all go wrong?” he said. “In the first few minutes when we lost the first goal. It was very disappointing to be two down after 12 minutes because then the whole game plan goes out the door.”
He was asked if his players – for they’re his now – had been left “mentally exhausted” by the recent turmoil. “I couldn’t deny that,” he said. “Obviously the goings-on have not helped. Do I want to make that excuse? No, we’re professional people, the lot of us. I will take responsibility – I set the team up – but I’m sure the boys will take responsibility for this performance too.”
McDowall praised Hibs, who had deserved their handsome win but not even those among the support who still believe in Santa Claus would have predicted this. The team had only managed to claw their way up to third the weekend before Christmas, when they’d finally recorded back-to-back wins for the first time in 2014.
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Jason Cummings, who’d rounded off that victory at Raith, was hoping to be sprung by Scott Allan in the first meaningful attack but the latter’s pass was wonky, a rare collector’s item on the day. Still, there were compensations, with Allan dumping Ian Black – Easter Road panto villain in perpetuity – on his backside earlier in the move, prompting loud cheers.
And the faithful didn’t have to wait long to cheer even louder. Liam Craig – on his 28th birthday – crossed from the left and Lee McCulloch’s glancing header only teed up the ball for David Gray 20 yards out. The full-back sent a rasping right-footer hurtling into the far corner of the net.
For the second, Allan was in a roughly similar position to Gray when he crossed beyond the back post. Craig athletically kept the ball in play and Cummings
finished off from close range.
Rangers had to respond, but players were taking bad touches, failing to support and making absolutely no angles whatsoever. Then Mark Oxley was slow to come for an aimless ball, his sluggish running suggesting he possibly won’t be entering the New Year Sprint down in Musselburgh. This caused mild panic in the defence, but really the closest Rangers came to troubling the Hibs goalkeeper in the first half was with a McCulloch clearance which sort of became a shot though still whizzed seven yards wide.
McDowall’s second decision as Rangers manager, after selecting an unchanged team, had been to remove Black from the midfield hurly-burly in which the player had contributed much of the hurly and a fair bit of the burly. “He was on a yellow, it was a hostile environment and there’s no way I was prepared to take that chance,” said McDowall of the potential of his man seeing red. Trudging off, Black applauded the jeering home support, then kicked the dugout.
All of this was too much for some Rangers fans, who decided to head uptown for the Jenners sale, or maybe they just went home. McDowall threw on Kris Boyd, who the last time Rangers visited the capital was lucky not to be sent off soon after arriving from the bench. Against Hearts, Rangers seemed to think it was 1974 rather than 2014. They played with ’74 physicality, hoping for ’74 licence and leeway, but the display of retro aggro ended in defeat. Yesterday Boyd was soon involved in four challenges in the space of half a minute which angered the Hibs fans, culminating with what they thought was the elbowing of Craig.
Hibs’ third goal was just as pleasing on the eye as the other two, the ever-inventive Allan disguised his return to Scott Robertson who finished coolly. Then Allan surged into the box to clip a delightful pass to Craig and even on his weaker right foot, the captain netted with a volley.
Hibernian: Oxley, Gray (Booth 73), Fontaine, Robertson, Craig, Stevenson, Handling (Kennedy 86), Allan, Malonga, Cummings (Stanton 86).
Rangers: Simonsen, Smith, Aird (Boyd 45), Wallace, McCulloch, Law, Black (Hutton 33), Clark, Miller (Shiels 82), Foster, McGregor
Referee: Bobby Madden. Attendance: 15,261
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