Credit has to go to both teams, even if Fraser Fyvie blotted his copybook slightly in the incident that led to Andy Halliday’s red card.
Fyvie’s day was already fraying after his pass was intercepted en route to Rangers scoring their equaliser.
That mistake was probably the defining moment of the afternoon. Hibs had been well worth their lead, given to them by a nerveless finish by Jason Cummings. Rangers looked to be already running out of ideas.
But the home side profited from Fyvie’s pain. His slack pass was picked up by James Tavernier in the run-up to Jason Holt’s 34th-minute equaliser. The Hibs midfielder later sealed a mini triumph of his own when conspiring to get Halliday sent off with 20 minutes left, clutching his face as if to signal he’d been struck by a headbutt. It was as unedifying as some of the chants by Rangers fans.
But the Rangers players answered those who wondered about their mettle. Chief among those posing this question was Alan Stubbs, who spent days attempting to rack up the pressure on the hosts. It reached the point where Mark Warburton was moved to accuse him of resorting to “amateur psychology, Level 1”. Note the withering “Level 1” detail.
He also tried to casually dismiss Stubbs’ attempts to get under his skin. “I am more concerned with what to buy the wife for Christmas,” Warburton countered.
Given the childish level to which the pre-game back-and-forth between the managers had sunk, it was refreshing to find Warburton keeping things straightforward in his programme notes. He welcomed Stubbs to Ibrox, said how much he was looking forward to a drink with him afterwards and even managed to use Hibernian’s name.
In the long history of Scottish football rivalry, Stubbs’ whinge that “Warbs deosn’t even call us by our name!” was a novel complaint. But it kept things spicy in the run-up to the game. Rangers resisted the urge to refer to Hibs as the “the opponent” or “the other team” on the front of the matchday programme.
It was Rangers v Hibernian. It was as compelling as had been hoped. Stubbs emerged from the tunnel at the start and shook hands with Warburton. Neither seemed to want to throttle one another. Not yet, at least. The pre-match countdown had been enlivened by Stubbs’ jibes.
It was good-natured stuff for the most part. Stubbs even praised the Rangers fans for their generosity to him after it was revealed he was suffering from cancer in the late 1990s.
But he was largely ignored in the initial stages yesterday, perhaps because the Rangers fans had little to sing about as their team struggled to break Hibs down. Stubbs, above, stood on the edge of his technical area with arms crossed.
Even when Cummings opened the scoring there was barely a flicker of emotion from Stubbs. The plan was coming together nicely. He was probably already imagining the scene as he stepped up on stage at the University of Football to be tapped on the head by Sir Alex Ferguson after graduating, with distinction, in the art of mind games. 1-0 up at Ibrox, he was master of all he surveyed.
Wearing powder blue trainers on his feet, clad in a bright yellow and black body warmer. No one could mistake Stubbs for Jose Mourinho. Not in the style stakes, at least. But he was certainly visible, as he said he would be. Whether the trainers were worn with a smirk, who knows? He was going to toe-to-toe with the enemy, as he had promised. But goals change matches. They can also make you look slightly foolish. A double by Holt meant Hibs were left to chase the match. Choruses of “Cheer up Alan Stubbs” – yes, with the supposedly banned word later in the verse included loud and clear – rang around the stadium.
There was a clear feeling Stubbs was getting what he had coming to him after a slew of comments designed to get under Rangers’ skin.
So Rangers inch ahead again in the title race. Stubbs can return those Amateur Psychology textbooks to their library shelf. Perhaps he needs to reach for the “Level 2” ones before rematch in March.
But something remains unresolved. We never did discover what Warburton got his wife for Christmas. “It’s private,” he smiled later.