Rangers v Hibernian play-off ‘still in balance’

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RIVAL managers Stuart McCall and Alan Stubbs found common ground in the aftermath of Rangers’ 2-0 win over Hibs in the first leg of the Scottish Premiership play-off semi-final when they both declared the tie remains in the balance.

Goals from Nicky Clark and Kenny Miller gave McCall’s side a solid advantage to take into Saturday’s return fixture at Easter Road.

Rangers manager Stuart McCall, left, congratulates goalscorer Kenny Miller on his performance. Picture: SNS

Rangers manager Stuart McCall, left, congratulates goalscorer Kenny Miller on his performance. Picture: SNS

Stubbs was left to bemoan his team’s failure to make the most of long spells of promising play at Ibrox but remains upbeat about their ability to overturn the deficit on home soil.

Rangers are clearly now favourites to reach the play-off final against Motherwell, but McCall tempered his satisfaction with their performance last night. “It was gritty, determined and we had to defend well,” said McCall. “Hibs showed what a good, good side they are tonight.

“I felt the first half was terrific, end to end. But you could tell in the last 25 minutes who had been on the beach for a few days, as Hibs had, and who had been playing hard football because our energy levels dropped.

“We stuck in there, we had to defend some outstanding set-plays from Scott Allan. But we scored two really good goals. Three minutes before half-time, I was probably thinking that 0-0 wouldn’t be a bad result. Because Hibs showed at times what a good footballing team they are.

“So, naturally I’m delighted to come away with a 2-0 win. There is still a lot of hard work to go, we know that. But I think the players deserve enormous credit.

“It’s only half-time, but they have turned themselves around and turned themselves into a unit.

“We have had fingers pointed at us – and rightly so – for maybe losing goals and being a bit soft. But that’s two consecutive clean sheets against Hibs now, so credit where credit is due. Tonight we weren’t brilliant. But football, can be won many, many ways and tonight was sheer guts, determination.

“We won’t try to sit in for 90 minutes at Easter Road on Saturday, because we are better trying to go forward. But what we have got to do now is re-organise, re-energise, recuperate and be ready.”

Stubbs was satisfied with the manner in which his players approached the game in front of a raucous Ibrox crowd. He said: “I’ve got plenty of confidence that we can turn this around.

“The tie is not over. I don’t feel my players were intimidated tonight, not at all. To come here and get on the ball, play some of the football we did, that’s not a team being intimidated. I hear all the time that Hibs are 
bottlers. I’m sick of answering the question, to be honest.

“There has been a determination to win all the time and I think they’ve played quite well. We’ve had opportunities. We haven’t come here and sat back, we haven’t had a doing. So I’m disappointed with the result but not the performance of the players.

“The players believe it’s not over. They’re disappointed because they know they were in the game.

“Rangers scored at important times, give them credit for that. I’ve been here for a few times as a player and a few times as a manager. Say what you like, it’s a difficult place to come – and obviously the crowd were right behind the team.

“I felt we deserved something, in that we should have scored in the game. But we’ll see what happens on Saturday. In an ideal world, we’d like to score early on and put Rangers under pressure. But Saturday’s game still has the potential to go 120 minutes. It’s not that important that we score in the first ten minutes – as long as we get that goal, then we’ll see how Rangers respond. Credit to them tonight, they’ve got a 
result. But we’re only halfway.”