THE best you can say about this, from a Rangers perspective, is that they got the job done, they found a way of overcoming some desperate shortcomings in their performance and took the points they so badly needed.
Once again, Nikica Jelavic was the man who made it happen. One day soon Ally McCoist is going to put a saddle on his striker’s back because this fella is a thoroughbred and his goals are carrying Rangers at the moment. He’s now got 14 for the season. If Liverpool are truly interested in signing him then no wonder.
“We will be having this conversation again over the next three to four weeks,” said the Rangers manager when quizzed on his prospects of holding on to his prized goalscorer. “He showed again how important he is to this football club.” McCoist hopes to fend off any interest in Jelavic, but there’s surely a bid or two coming his way in January that will, as they say, test the club’s resolve.
Pat Fenlon, watching his team play their first 90 minutes since taking over, was left feeling frustrated. Angry, even. His team lost to a penalty and a header from a corner. Soft and soft again. Rangers had no more than three moments of attacking purpose in the entire game and scored from two of them. McCoist won’t kid himself into thinking that this was a good performance. Clearly, it was not. Hibs had a few opportunities of their own but failed to convert from great areas. Such is life around these parts at the moment.
The day was bitter cold and the football did little to warm the cockles. Hibs were set up to avoid conceding a goal but at some point – half-time, maybe – a light might have gone on inside Fenlon’s brain and with it a realisation that Rangers were there to be beaten. McCoist’s team had been woeful in the opening spell, their tempo unsurprisingly pedestrian given the personnel McCoist had in the middle of his midfield. A trio of Lee McCulloch, Maurice Edu and Kyle Bartley is nobody’s idea of a cutting edge. They got stuck in, that’s as much as you could say. Two of them got booked before the break.
McCoist’s rationale was that solidity in the middle would allow Lee Wallace and Steven Whittaker to rampage out wide. It didn’t happen that way, though. Only when the Rangers manager brought on Thomas Bendiksen in the second half did the visitors improve. Jelavic came into the game more when Bendiksen appeared.
Jelavic had been toiling up front all on his lonesome. At times he had all the isolation of a hitch-hiker, his thumb out for a pass that rarely came. Everything whizzed by him in a blur. At one point he went over to take a throw-in. The guy was probably just desperate to get on the ball in any way possible. This was pitiful stuff.
Have fallen into a mini-slump in recent weeks – held by St Johnstone, beaten by Kilmarnock and only defeating Dunfermline 2-1 with a dodgy penalty thrown in – Rangers needed the three points like they needed their next breath and yet the midfield was devoid of imagination and the service to their fine striker non-existent as a consequence.
The only noise being made by the visitors at this point came from an element of their support, a group who quite clearly feel persecuted by the SFA over that business of the Sone Aluko dive and subsequent ban. Their way of registering their protest was to tell the SFA where to go – as is their right – while also chipping in with some singing about Fenian bastards, which is utterly moronic. The SPL will spring into action now. Not so much iron fist as feather duster. The bigots will get a right good tickling over this from the hardliners at Hampden.
The game? Well, it meandered along for 45 minutes until something noteworthy happened. In fairness, it was a hell of a chance and it fell to Hibs, a golden opportunity spurned. Ivan Sproule created it with a rare dash down the left, a run that took him past Steven Whittaker before he put a ball across the six-yard box. Lee Wallace looked like he had the danger under control but only added to it when he comically missed his kick and let it run through to Leigh Griffiths, who had the time to take a touch before shooting, but not the composure. His shot was akin to a back-pass. On the touchline, Fenlon contorted himself in fury.
An hour had elapsed before Rangers got their big breakthrough. It was then they won their penalty, their springboard for victory. Away on the right-hand side of the Hibs box Michael Hart got himself in a tangle of arms with Wallace and was adjudged to have brought down the Rangers player. Wallace, it has to be said, fell pretty easily, but it was probably the correct decision. Jelavic stuck the penalty away to Graham Stack’s right while the goalkeeper flung himself left.
What blessed relief this must have been for McCoist. At 1-0, however, they were not home-free, a fact that was underlined by a second wonderful Hibs chance but one that went the same way as the first. Sproule’s free-kick was headed over by Paul Hanlon from point-blank range. Again, Fenlon looked half-demented on the touchline.
Nine minutes after taking the lead, Rangers made it two when a Gregg Wylde corner was nutted home by Jelavic, whose movement in the box to create the space for himself was impressive – and way too much for the Hibs defenders to handle. The game was done at that point, Fenlon’s men denied even the comfort of a consolation goal when Paul Hanlon’s deflected cross was brilliantly tipped away by Allan McGregor.
So Rangers had their victory. And a modicum of relief.