Rangers 1 - 0 Hibernian: Defoe seals win as McGregor sees red
Supremely talented, the goalkeeper is his own worst enemy. With Rangers moments away from closing out a fifth successive victory following Jermain Defoe’s 41st-minute goal, McGregor allowed himself to be riled by Hibs’ Marc McNulty as he was trying to launch the ball upfield. He chose to flick a boot out as he was following through having struck the ball and raked his studs down the striker’s back.
McNulty was cautioned, bizarrely, but McGregor was red carded. It is not as if the goalkeeper does not have previous for this particular misdemeanour. He kicked out at Kristoffer Ajer against Celtic in September and at Aberdeen’s Lewis Ferguson in February, when he received a retrospective red card and two-match ban. He will now sit out this weekend’s clash with Celtic after his latest shame and his expected ban of three league games will stretch into the next campaign.
The only consolation for McGregor is that his antics did not prove costly in terms of yesterday’s game. Rangers still won. Emergency goalkeeper Ross McCrorie coped with what little he had to do in the seven or so minutes he was required to preserve Rangers’ clean sheet, with all three subs having been used (McCrorie was one of them). Even Rangers fans will now relish the memory of seeing him don an out-sized goalkeeper jersey in what was a wonderful throwback to times when this was a more regular occurrence.
Hibs, meanwhile, don’t need McGregor to kick them. They will administer the kicking themselves for failing to at least ask questions of McCrorie. His twin brother Robby – currently on loan at Morton from Rangers – might be an actual goalkeeper but Ross would surely have been tested by having to clutch a ball in a crowded area.
But Stevie Mallan wasted the best chance Hibs had to put him under pressure by taking a poor corner that was easily defended by Rangers. An extra ball was then flung on to the pitch by someone in the Broomloan Road stand and the game ended in fairly farcical scenes. Referee Bobby Madden opted for a bounce ball in the penalty box and Rangers eventually cleared.
What seemed certain to finish as a straightforward victory for Rangers had turned into a nervous, chaotic affair that left Gerrard seemingly at a loss to account for his side’s wretched disciplinary record. One of the main talking points, other than a winning goal from Defoe, his eighth since arriving on loan in January, was the return of Alfredo Morelos, who appeared as a second-half substitute after serving a four-match ban for being sent off for the fifth time this season against Celtic in March. Rangers have now racked up 12 red cards across all competitions since Gerrard came in.
Gerrard genuinely thinks this has cost Rangers dearly in terms of winning something. There might be something in that. Defoe’s goal at least extended their recent run of victories to five. He did what a great striker does and put several earlier missed chances behind him to score with a neat dink after being put through by Steven Davis.
Ryan Kent was wearing gloves and there was a distinct chill in the air. Rangers will wish it really was winter and there was still time to overhaul Celtic.
But it’s May, Celtic are league champions and Rangers are already looking to next season after self-sabotage has contributed to ensuring they will finish this one without a trophy. The Ibrox side were able to address one matter yesterday. For the first time in the current campaign they have overcome Hibs. Three previous attempts ended in draws and frustration.
No one has had it easy against them, particularly in the Paul Heckingbottom era. This was Hibs’ first league loss under the Yorkshireman but even in defeat they exhibited why they have been able to
put together such a run by being well organised and hard to break down.
As the game reached the closing stages Rangers were wary of what happened the last time Hibs visited, when they were sucker punched by a late Darren McGregor header. When Hibs won a corner with eight minutes left a huge cheer went up from their fans in the corner. McGregor nodded wide on this occasion.
Fraser Murray also headed fellow substitute Flo Kamberi’s cross just past before the same players combined for Hibs’ best chance to equalise with just three minutes left. This time the roles were reversed: Murray’s cross was deflected on to Kamberi at the back post but the Swiss striker’s side-footed attempt was brilliantly blocked by Allan McGregor.
The goalkeeper turned from hero to villain shortly afterwards amid general confusion, with most of the crowd having followed the ball as it arced through the air rather than keep their attention fixed on what was developing between McGregor and McNulty.