A tempestuous, engrossing and controversial encounter prompted many talking points. Here is Joel Sked’s take on Hibs’ victory at Ibrox.
John Beaton was the centre of attention
Unfortunately for what was billed as a bombastic encounter, one which did deliver for around 30 minutes, the referee was a key protagonist.
Everyone knew it was going to be a passionate affair following the scenes at Hampden Park following the conclusion of Scottish Cup final in 2016. The atmosphere was electric before a ball was kicked, and was edged up further when Alfredo Morelos put the home side in front.
Then a clash between James Tavernier and Anthony Stokes only added to the heat. Tavernier fouled the Hibernian forward but the Irishman reacted and grabbed the defender around the neck/collar. It’s the type of clash which you would prefer the referee to have a word with both players, give them a warning and move the game on. Beaton booked both players.
In the 36th minute, the referee made a decision which continues to baffle. A petulant clip, of which there were many throughout the game, by Hibs’ Vykintas Slivka on Graham Dorrans led to a melee in the middle of the park. In other matches it wouldn’t have led to such an incident but such was the nature of the clash it needed little to set the players off.
There was a lot of pushing, shoving, squaring up and glorified pavement dancing. Then Ryan Jack was shown a red card.
The former Aberdeen captain had pulled Dylan McGeouch down to the ground. It appeared that was what the red card was for. Harsh when comparing the incident to that of Stokes on Tavernier which was arguably worse.
However, reports suggest that it was for Jack pushing his head into the temple of Stokes. Although footage show the two appearing to do exactly the same.
Rangers would be well within their right to appeal the decision.
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John McGinn won the midfield battle
Hibs fans enjoy regaling their midfield maestro with his ‘Super John McGinn’ song. At Ibrox he was certainly that.
McGinn was named Championship player of the season for the last campaign, but ,largely, he wasn’t ‘super’. A more suitable prefix would have been ‘decent’. Simply because this is a player with an abundance of talent but he didn’t dominate games in the way he dominated Rangers.
The Hibees took time to settle into the encounter. Rangers were quicker and more decisive, cheered on by a buoyant and somewhat baying home crowd. A key to their 4-4-2 is controlling the encounter in the opposition’s half, especially when their opponent is fielding a three-man midfield. Marvin Bartley looked a massive miss early on.
Once Hibs had settled and grown into the match their midfield became prominent. Dylan McGeouch and McGinn were an energetic pairing in the middle of the park with Vykintas Slivka linking play.
With the two strikers occupying the Rangers centre-backs, Simon Murray’s pace pushing defenders back, Graham Dorrans and Ryan Jack were posed with a dilemma: push up on McGinn and McGeouch and leave space for Slivka to cause damage or drop deeper opening up more room for the Hibs pairing to play.
McGinn set the tone for Hibs both in and out of possession. He kept possession ticking over before driving forward, one of his most admirable qualities. His pressing was excellent, nearly grabbing himself a first half goal by pinching the ball of a sleeping opponent.
With McGinn’s endurance it can be like having an extra man in the middle, Hibs’ dominance and control only growing after Jack’s red card.
Rangers were spent after the sending off
Pedro Caixinha’s men came flying out the traps. Alfredo Morelos and Kenny Miller were busy in attack, keeping all three of Hibs centre-backs on their toes. In the wide areas Daniel Candeias and Josh Windass were asking more questions of the wing-backs than were being asked of them.
But in the build up to the red card Rangers were beginning to be dictated to. Hibs’ 3-5-2 was simply a better system to Rangers’ 4-4-2, especially when the Ibrox side were pushing their full-backs high - Lee Hodson, playing out of position, was inferior to Lee Wallace. When they lost the ball they were being counter-attacked on with ease.
As mentioned previously the 3v2 in the middle of midfield was causing Rangers problems. McGinn and McGeouch had more time in possession than their Rangers counterparts. Vykintas Slivka acting as the spare man.
After the sending off it was a case of getting to half-time for Rangers without further damage. They were unable to do so.
Regrouping, Caixinha brought on Danny Wilson and Eduardo Herrera to mirror Hibs, albeit with a man fewer in the middle. It failed to fix the issue and at no point until James Tavernier netted with around ten minutes left did Rangers look like recovering to take anything from the game.
Dorrans and Miller were tasked with doing far too much, meaning when Rangers were going direct to Herrera there was only Morelos in support, the midfield effectively doing doggies for 45 minutes.
Magical Simon Murray
Coming into the new campaign Simon Murray was a divisive figure. Could he carry on his development in the top-flight or was he just a very quick one-trick pony?
Only three years ago he was playing junior football before moving to Arbroath. Fourteen goals in 19 League Two matches prompted Dundee United, who were then in the Premiership, to spend money on the raw talent.
He spent the rest of the season on loan at the Smokies failing to replicate the form which brought about interest from clubs. It was followed up by a stop-start introduction to Premiership life as United were relegated. It was a relegation which suited the forward. The Championship was more appropriate for his development, and so it proved as he netted 18 goals in all competitions, impressing in the play-offs as United missed out on a return to the top tier.
Question marks about his ability were still there, however. He could run, harry and be a general nuisance. But he lacked composure and his build-up game was far from fluid.
The season may only be two league games old but he is already making many eat their words, while endearing himself further to Hibs fans every time he unnerves an opponent with his tireless work-rate.
He was terrific up against Bruno Alves. He worked laterally, vertically and diagonally. Peeling into space vacated by Tavernier allowed him to take the ball and drive forward, as he did with the first goal. When he entered the box a calmness descended over him as he sat down Alves, walked past Cardoso and simply passed the ball into the corner.
He was instrumental in the second with his perpetual movement. No ball is a lost cause. He pick-pocketed a nervous Lee Hodson before getting himself into the box and feeding Vykintas Slivka.
Yet, most impressively was his all-round play. Intelligent running was coupled with a crisp touch. Previously it looked parts of the game did not look natural too him. At Ibrox everything was clean and crisp.
At 25-year-old Murray is proving he deserves to be in the top-flight.
Forget about Celtic
Celtic and Rangers, since what feels like the start of time, have been intertwined. Each use the other as a barometer. Stay ahead of the other and more often than not it will mean being perched at the top.
However, due to Rangers’ liquidation the fabric of Scottish football, the nature, has changed. The Ibrox side are not only on a different level to Celtic, a lesser one, but they are currently sharing that level with Aberdeen and what now looks like Hibernian.
After the recruitment drive from all three teams, plus the start each have made, the fight for second is going to be competitive, compelling and probably crazy.
While Rangers have been able to invest significantly more than their rivals, they are arguably more of an unknown quantity. They have a manager who is still acclimatising to a new league as well as a variety of players who are new to the Scottish football environment.
It is far too much to ask for them to make a significant step forward to challenge what appears to be a Celtic team operating in a different stratosphere. It is, understandably, difficult to accept for a team who have been so successful throughout their history. Yet, patience and understanding are going to have to be necessary.
With Graham Dorrans offering top-level quality in midfield, an ability to control, forage, battle and produce, and positives signs from both league encounters there are facets of the team which should excite the Rangers faithful.
The team were excellent in the opening 20 minutes against Hibs. Positive, dominant, direct and forceful. They could have had the game wrapped up before Simon Murray equalised. But they are not near a level where they can dominate when not playing well or down to ten men.