How Rangers ticked very few boxes ahead of PSV as Hibs show glimpse of what can happen under Lee Johnson
It is 12 years since the Ibrox club last qualified for the Champions League group stages and while their manager had spoken of the need to park all thoughts of that contest while they dealt with the task at hand, in Leith, in retrospect, with matters finely-poised following the first leg of the play-off against PSV Eindhoven, he will wish his players had given it a modicum more consideration.
Instead, they produced a self-destructive second half of football, that saw them surrender their half-time lead, and drain their energy resources, unnecessarily, ahead of their Netherlands trip, drawing 2-2 against Hibs
They did not act in isolation, though, as their opponents and referee Willie Collum undoubtedly contributed.
Hibs had not defeated Rangers at Easter Road in the top flight since 2006 when Paul Le Guen was still in charge and, although they enjoyed a dazzling triumph over the Glasgow side in the semi-finals of last season’s Premiers Sports Cup, they had not experienced victory over them in six Premiership meetings, at any ground. This one made that seven, despite piling on the pressure and pressing for the advantage.
Hibs will take pride from that, having struggled to assert themselves or their gameplan in the early stages.
Opting to start with a back three, they left themselves vulnerable, especially when the likes of Rabbi Motondo posing questions down the right, where Josh Campbell was operating as a makeshift left-wingback for the Hibees.
But manager Lee Johnson was bold and, after 28 minutes, replaced Paul Hanlon and Ewan Henderson with regular full-back Marijan Cabraja, who missed most of last week’s training as he headed home to Croatia for his father’s funeral. And Christian Doidge. It allowed them to revert to a more comfortable back four as they looked to up the tempo and begin to press with more purpose and cohesion.
They still walked up the tunnel at half-time fuming, as referee Willie Collum began to make his mark on proceedings.
Hibs had been raging when a pull on Rocky Bushiri had not been punished and refereeing inconsistency simply stoked the fire when the Belgian defender was picked up for a similar infringement in the 44th minute, when a needless tug on Antonio Colak as he was trying in vain to chase down a passback allowed James Tavernier to net from the penalty spot.
Driven by a piercing half-time team-talk and the sense of injustice, the home side lifted their game. Showing a resilience and team spirit that has been more and more evident. Bouncing back from their Premier Sports Cup embarrassment, the capital outfit have become used to pressing deep into injury time and, once again, they reaped their reward.
Martin Boyle had scored a hat-trick the last time Hibs prospered over Rangers and he was on the scoresheet once more, busting a gut to get in ahead of defenders who failed to marshal him and slot away an inviting Elie Youan ball across goal. The pace of the young Frenchman is an asset, and complements that of Boyle, and he used it to get past visiting right-back Tavernier and then fizz in the cross before Connor Goldson could get out to block it.
It was an example of the style of play Johnson promised when he took over and proof of how effective it can be when the Hibs players buy into it and execute it properly.
That equaliser came in the 51st minute but Rangers waited just seven minutes to respond. Showing their quality, they were soon ahead again when Borna Barisic sent in a perfect delivery and Tom Lawrence met confidently to power a header past Hibs keeper David Marshall.
It was a thrilling, all-action contest by that stage, with both sides deserving credit, but referee Willie Collum decided that he wanted some of the attention.
There had already been a number of cards and interventions that suggested a far more difficult match than was actually the case. It left certain players walking a bit of a tightrope and shortened the odds on someone being sent off, so it was no surprise when he flashed the first red card in the 66th minute for a challenge that was definitely cynical but would normally have merited no more than a yellow.
A Martin Boyle broke away, John Lundstram recognised the threat he could pose and the speed at which he could eat up the metres between the middle of the park and Jon McLaughlin’s goal and stuck out a leg to thwart his progress.
They might have been able to weather what Hibs threw at them if that had been the end of the indiscipline but Alfredo Morelos is never one to hide in the shadows.
A player who has been left idling as Colak impresses, he was given his opportunity to prove to his manager that he remains a viable and dangerous option. But he blew it.
Just on the pitch, his swinging left arm caught Cabraja in the face and it was a gimme for Collum, who hastily brandished another red, leaving Rangers with their backs to the wall and Hibs throwing everything at them.
Rangers have shown themselves resolute, though, particularly on the European stage and they did look like they might foil Hibs.
By the time the game moved into stoppage time Hibs had added Momodou Bojang to the mix, sacrificing Ryan Porteous, and Bushiri had been moved up as a target man, leaving the fullbacks to patrol the backline.
Not that Rangers had the bodies or the energy for breakaways. With eight men behind the ball they tried to hang on to all three points. But in the third minute of stoppage time Campbell showed more composure than seemed reasonable at that stage and sent a lovely shot from the edge of the area into the net.