THE return of football to Glasgow’s post-Commonwealth Games sporting centre stage saw Rangers deliver a less than stellar performance as they scrambled past ten-man Hibs into the second round of the Petrofac Training Cup.
Rangers 2 - Macleod (14), Law (102)
Hibernian 1 - Handling (59)
Referee: John Beaton
Nicky Law’s extra-time winner eventually subdued the Easter Road side who, after a tepid first-half display, provided their followers with no little encouragement in new manager Alan Stubbs’ first competitive match in charge.
The afterglow of Glasgow 2014 was still very much in evidence before kick-off when both teams formed a guard of honour to welcome Lynsey Sharp on to the pitch. A lifelong Rangers supporter, Scotland’s 800 metres heroine received a warm ovation as she displayed her silver medal.
There was also a stark contrast to the multi-sports festival to which the city has just bid farewell, however. Ibrox, packed to capacity as the venue for the rugby sevens at the Games, was a long way short of full last night.
For McCoist, the impact of his re-united strike force of Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller will be key to his prospects of enjoying a positive start to a campaign which promises to be more competitive and intriguing than the two which have preceded it since Rangers’ financial collapse.
Boyd did not take long to find himself in familiar territory, slamming the ball into the net inside the opening 30 seconds, only to be flagged offside.
Hibs, operating a progressive 4-2-3-1 system with Alex Harris, Danny Handling and Sam Stanton filling the three advanced midfield positions behind central striker Farid El Alagui, were conspicuously attempting to keep the ball on the deck as they responded with some sustained possession and pressure of their own.
But the visitors lacked the kind of penetration which brought Rangers their breakthrough strike in the 14th minute. Lee Wallace, given plenty of attacking scope in his left wing-back role as Rangers operated a 3-5-2 formation, found space to whip over a cross which had the Hibs defence on their heels.
The ball found its way to Macleod on the right side of the penalty area and the midfielder showed good composure to immediately bring the ball under control and drill a low, right-foot shot beyond goalkeeper Mark Oxley from around 16 yards. As Rangers looked to press home their advantage, Boyd had the ball in the net again five minutes later with a terrific turn and shot from the edge of the box but this time it was disallowed as referee John Beaton ruled he had used a hand to control the ball.
Oxley was called into action to keep out Miller’s first direct attempt at goal, the on-loan Hull City goalkeeper getting down to his right to gather the 20-yard shot less than convincingly.
It certainly wasn’t one-way traffic, but Hibs were suffering from a familiar lack of cutting edge in the final third of the pitch.
However, they made a far sharper start to the second half and Handling provided the first evidence of their greater attacking threat when he drove a low, right-foot shot narrowly wide of Cammy Bell’s right-hand post. Stubbs’ men then missed a glorious opportunity in the 51st minute when Sam Stanton ghosted in behind the Rangers defence to find himself with only Bell to beat.
The youngster appeared to freeze, however, as he struck a tame shot straight at the Rangers goalkeeper from close range.
Hibs were growing in belief and the equaliser duly arrived eight minutes later.
When Rangers failed to deal with a simple cross into the penalty area, Handling was quickest to react as he seized upon a ricochet off Ian Black and slammed a low shot beyond Bell from close range.
Hibs were now firmly in the ascendancy and should have gone ahead in the 63rd minute, El Alagui wastefully volleying over from ten yards after being picked out by Liam Craig’s clever through ball.
McCoist introduced David Templeton at the expense of McGregor, switching to a more orthodox 4-4-2 formation as he tried to give his team fresh impetus. But it was Hibs who came close again when El Alagui was unmarked once more as he headed over from a Harris corner.
Templeton did begin to make an impact with his pace and directness, though, and was just too quick for Handling when Hibs’ scorer brought him down with a late challenge. That said, the straight red card produced by referee Beaton was unduly harsh for what looked like a booking at most.
The ten men comfortably held out to take the tie into extra time but they were undone 11 minutes into the additional period. Scott Robertson suffered severe cramp at the most inopportune moment, unable to make a simple clearance and allowed Wallace to cut the ball back for Law to curl a fine finish beyond Oxley from 16 yards and secure a second round tie at home to Clyde.
Rangers: Bell, Foster, Wallace, Zaliukas, McCulloch, McGregor (Templeton 67), Black, MacLeod (Aird, 109), Boyd, Miller, Law. Subs not used subs: Smith, Faure, Hutton, Shiels, Simonsen.
Hibernian: Oxley, Gray, Stevenson, Craig, Forster, Hanlon, Harris, Robertson (Tudur Jones, 103), El Alagui (Allan, 97), Handling, Stanton (Heffernan 74). Subs not used: Nelson, Booth, Perntreou, Cummings.