ON HEARING results such as this, people often ask if the winners were very good or the losers really bad. In this case the answer was both.
Rangers were shambolic: short of confidence, conviction and commitment, they offered less resistance than most part-time teams could put up. New bosses often get at least a dead-cat bounce when they take over a team, but caretaker manager Kenny McDowall can have seen nothing to suggest his squad wanted to impress him.
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Then again, having been Ally McCoist’s assistant, McDowall is not a completely new boss. He certainly appeared to have no new ideas, with the second-half arrival off the bench of Kris Boyd being a classic example of the dearth of fresh thinking that has dogged the Ibrox club all season.
Having said all that, Rangers could have been a lot more competitive yet still easily ended up on the losing side. Hibernian were composed and creative throughout, and midfielder Scott Allan orchestrated the play superbly.
On this form, Allan is the outstanding player in the Championship. His best displays earlier in the season were with Dylan McGeouch alongside him, but these days, with McGeouch still sidelined after an ankle operation, Liam Craig and Scott Robertson are proving equally able assistants.
Allan’s pre-eminence was established in the opening minutes, when he easily nudged Ian Black aside as both men went for the ball. Booked in the 20th minute, Black was sensibly taken off by McDowall before half-time. By the time of that yellow card, Hibs were two goals to the good. The first came when a Craig cross from the left was headed clear to David Gray just outside the box. With time to kill the ball and pick his spot, Gray drove fiercely into the opposite corner.
Nicky Law, the nearest Rangers player to the goalscorer, stood off him rather than try to close him down, and the visitors’ defence was just as culpable of ball-watching when the second goal went in four minutes later. Allan’s deep cross beyond the far post was sent back into the goalmouth by Craig, and Jason Cummings rushed in unopposed to tap the ball over the line from a couple of feet out.
Inconsistency has been Hibs’ major weakness all season, as was shown by the fact that they only claimed their first back-to-back league wins a week before this game, and from that perspective there were a couple of troubling spells for them here.
The first was the period just before half-time, when they slackened off too much rather than keeping up a tempo that had Rangers in all sorts of bother. The second was the opening quarter of an hour of the second half, when McDowall’s team at last began to play with some positive purpose.
The high point of that passage of play from Rangers’ point of view came when a Law shot was blocked by Liam Fontaine – a half chance that was as close as they came all day to unsettling the Hibs defence. The low point was the misplaced aggression shown by Boyd, who committed four fouls in quick succession after coming on in place of Fraser Aird.
The substitute had one real sniff at goal when the ball rebounded to him from another Law shot, but his mis-hit attempt skidded wide. The only consolation for Boyd was the fact he was far from the only player on his side to show such ineptitude.
No matter their shortcomings, if Rangers had scored then it would have been an interesting test of Hibs’ character. Instead, that opportunity gone, Robertson made the points safe when he curled the ball round Steve Simonsen after a defence-dissecting one-two with Allan.
Danny Handling should have made it four when Lewis Stevenson found him unmarked deep inside the area, but he shot wide. Hibs’ fourth was only delayed, however, and it came when Allan cleverly passed to Craig, who sidefooted home first time.
Even allowing for their present reduced circumstances, it is not often that Rangers are so comprehensively taken apart by domestic opponents, and during the calmer closing 20 minutes of the match, many in the stands were checking the statistical records to find out when Hibs had last beaten their Glasgow opponents by such a wide margin. They last put four past Rangers exactly half a century ago, and last beat them by four goals in a competitive match back in 1912, but further examination revealed an 8-1 thrashing in September 1941 when the league was suspended for the duration of the Second World War.
Such stats may be of historic interest, but what matters in the here and now is that, under Alan Stubbs, Hibs are at last going places. Rangers, by contrast, are merely going nowhere fast.
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